Assembly approves Wieckowski California Public Records Act bill

SB 518 prevents public agencies from shifting attorney costs onto public records requesters

September 9, 2019

SACRAMENTO – Advocates of a strong California Public Records Act (CPRA) achieved a victory today when the state Assembly approved Senate Bill 518 by Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to prevent government agencies from transferring the costs of attorney’s fees onto public records requesters.

Under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 998, settlement offers, if rejected, provide that the offering party is entitled to recover its litigation costs in the event the rejecting party fails to obtain a better result at trial.  While Section 998 is a useful tool to reaching an agreement in civil litigation, it should not be used in conjunction with the California Public Records Act.  

“SB 518 ensures that our Public Records Act is being used as it was intended – as a way for Californians to get information from their government without being threatened with having to pay an agency’s attorney’s fees,” said Sen. Wieckowski, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “This bill clarifies that a court shall award costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to requesters should they prevail in court.  We do not want people to be deterred from requesting public records under the CPRA because they think they might have to pay for the government’s attorneys. 

A few public agencies have tried to circumvent the CPRA by using Section 998 settlement offers and reducing the amount of public information they release. 

“Democratic government depends on the informed and active participation of its citizens and requires that governmental bodies protect the citizen's right to know by, among other rights, making public records accessible,” said Carol Moon Goldberg, president of the League of Women Voters of California. “SB 518 is essential to ensuring that the CPRA works as intended, to enhance public access to public documents.”

SB 518 is supported by the California News Publishers Association, California Broadcasters Association, First Amendment Coalition and Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access, among many other organizations.

The bill will go back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote before heading to Governor Newsom for his consideration.

Sen. Wieckowski represents the 10th Senate District, which includes southern Alameda County and parts of Santa Clara County.