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PLN Wins Public Records Ruling Against California Prison System

by Matt Clarke

On December 23, 2009, a California superior court ruled that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had to produce records requested two years earlier by Prison Legal News.

PLN made the request for documents related to “Paid Adult Legal Claims” from 2002-2007 resulting in payments that exceeded $25,000. CDCR identified 272 such cases, but refused to fulfill the request because it was too burdensome. PLN challenged the refusal in superior court.

The court held that CDCR’s claim that its own records might include only incomplete or non-final versions of the documents, the final versions of which were in the possession of outside litigation counsel, failed because CDCR never attempted to obtain copies of the documents from its litigation counsel. CDCR’s argument that the documents were better obtained from the federal PACER docket system or from the state courts in which the cases were filed also failed because CDCR had not provided PLN with the relevant case numbers for most of the cases, making it impossible for PLN to check to see if the documents were available elsewhere.

Clearly impatient with CDCR’s delaying tactics, the superior court ordered CDCR to provide PLN with the case numbers of all 742 cases in which any claims were paid so that PLN could check whether they were available through PACER. The court also ordered CDCR to produce records in the 272 identified cases that resulted in payments over $25,000, either by obtaining them from outside litigation counsel or by searching its own files.

On September 30, 2010 the superior court approved a stipulation by the parties whereby PLN was awarded $155,000 in attorney fees and costs for successfully litigating the case.
PLN was ably represented in this litigation by the San Francisco law firm of Rosen, Bien and Galvan. See: Prison Legal News v. Tilton, Sacramento County Superior Court (CA), Case No. 34-2007-00883573-CU-PT-GDS.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Tilton