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California Public Records Act (PRA)
The California Public Records Act (California Government Code sections 6250-6276.48) states that all public records in California are open to inspection and copying by anyone.
Online resources for the PRA
Tips for Making PRA Requests
- Try to make a reasonable, focused request. If you ask for "every email sent or received by the agency since 1995," the result will be a huge volume of data, and it will take the agency a long time to produce the records. Large agencies are overburdened with PRA requests– don't abuse the law or it will be repealed or modified!
- The larger agencies that receive many PRA requests have established procedures for making the requests. Following these procedures will expedite your request. Check the agency's Web site before submitting a request. Your PRA request letter to a large agency that receives many requests does not need to spell out the law.
- Smaller agencies that receive few PRA requests, such as small-town governments, may not understand the PRA's requirements. It is a good idea to spell out some of the PRA requirements, such as the 10-day response requirement, and the requirement to disclose records promptly.
- You have the option of asking to inspect documents free of charge. This is usually the best option if you're not sure what types of documents or how many documents will result from your request. You can select particular documents to be copied after you look them all over.
- You may also ask that documents produced in response to your request be copied and sent to you. The agency may charge you for the actual cost of copying them. It is usually a good idea to specify a maximum amount you're willing to pay for copying when making this type of request.
- The PRA applies to certain types of data files as well as normal written documents.
What to Do If Your Request is Denied
- The PRA requires that the denial be in writing. Check the reasons given for denial to see if they're valid. If the records you're requesting fall within one of the PRA exemptions, the reasons are valid.
- The PRA requires that the agency supply any segregable portions of exempt records, and any records that you've requested that don't fall within the exemption. Ask for these.
- If you believe that the agency is denying your request improperly, gather the evidence for a lawsuit. You want to have a clear, reasonable request for records that the agency is required to produce, and a written denial of that request, for invalid reasons.
- Once you have this evidence, it should be relatively easy to find a lawyer to take your case, since the PRA requires the agency to pay your attorney's fees and costs if you win in court. Some lawyers will take these cases on a contingency basis if you pay the costs (about $500 for filing, service and motion fees).