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PLN Files Public Records Suit Against San Francisco County, Sheriff’s Office

On August 20, 2009, Prison Legal News filed suit in Superior Court against the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Michael Hennessey and City Attorney Dennis Herrera. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants failed to comply with their statutory obligations under the California Public Records Act (Gov’t Code §§ 6250, et seq.)

Last year, on July 9, 2008, PLN submitted a request to Sheriff Hennessey for records related to litigation against the Sheriff’s Department, including payouts in settlements and verdicts resulting from tort, overdetention and civil rights claims involving both prisoners and jail employees over a multi-year period.
PLN’s records request was forwarded to the City Attorney’s office, which on December 17, 2008 produced a spreadsheet that included information about payouts in 722 cases. However, City Attorney Dennis Herrera admitted that the spreadsheet was not “all encompassing.” On March 27, 2009, PLN provided additional information regarding its records request and submitted a supplemental request for litigation payouts since the date the original request was filed. No response was received and the defendants failed to produce all of the requested records, which clearly should have been produced under the Public Records Act.

PLN’s lawsuit notes that according to state law, “public records are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the state or local agency and every person has as right to inspect any public record.” Government agencies are also required “upon a request for a copy of records” to make the requested records “promptly available to any person.”
Further, the San Francisco Administrative Code provides that “The right of people to know what their government and those acting on behalf of their government are doing is fundamental to democracy, and with very few exceptions, that right supersedes any other policy interest government officials may use to prevent public access to information.”
“The amount, type and cost of litigation involving the Sheriff’s Department related to prisoners and employees is a matter of public interest, and reflects on the efficacy and adequacy of San Francisco’s jail operations,” said PLN editor Paul Wright.
“The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” added PLN’s counsel, Sanford Rosen.

PLN also has public records suits pending against Los Angeles County and the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, related to requests for similar information regarding litigation payouts.

PLN is represented by Sanford Jay Rosen, Elizabeth Eng and Kenneth M. Walczak of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, a San Francisco law firm. See: Prison Legal News v. City and County of San Francisco, Superior Court, County of San Francisco, Case No. CGC 09 491641.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. City and County of San Francisco