California’s Public Records Act begins with the presumption that all state and local governmental records are open to the public unless a specific exemption can be found, and provides penalties and attorneys fees when government agencies fail to comply with the law.  However, many courts appear to have been reluctant to award legal fee recoveries for even blatant Public Records Act violations, perhaps out of sensitivity to government expenses resulting from gadfly actions.  However, a California Court of Appeal has now applied the legal fee recovery provisions of the Public Records Act when a public agency has in effect denied all access to relevant public records.  A record seeker will be entitled to recovery of legal fees if “the litigation caused a previously withheld document to be released”.  In this case, the court tacitly acknowledged the public record seeker’s persistence in eventually obtaining documents whose very existence had been denied by the agency’s counsel, as well as obtaining records through litigation after being ordered by the agency’s head to leave the agency’s premises where the records were held, when she requested to exercise Public Records Act rights.  (Galbiso v. Orosi Public Utility District, California Court of Appeal No. FO53326, October 23, 2008)

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