In The Copley Press, Inc. v. The Superior Court of San Diego County, (4 Daily Journal D.A.R. 11,687, Cal.App. 4 Dist., Sept. 16, 2004), the California Court of Appeal addressed the issue of whether a civil service commission must release the name of an officer involved in a disciplinary proceeding to a newspaper that filed a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request.
The County of San Diego Civil Service Commission adopted rules providing that it will close a peace officer’s appeal hearing to the public and also conceal the officer’s identity if the officer does not request that the public be admitted to his or her disciplinary appeal. The Copley Press, Inc, asked for access to the appeal hearing of a peace officer who had requested a closed hearing. Copley’s request was denied. Copley filed a lawsuit in superior court seeking disclosure of documents related to the appeal hearing and a declaration that the Commission’s practice of holding closed hearings is unlawful. The superior court denied the requested relief. Copley subsequently made another request under the CPRA for documents filed or submitted in connection with the officer’s case since its original request. The Commission provided Copley with various documents, but the officer’s identity was redacted from the documents. Copley then filed a petition with the Court of Appeal to review the superior court’s decision.
Appellate Court Decision
Penal Code section 832.7 provides that the personnel records of peace officers are confidential and shall not be disclosed in any criminal or civil proceeding, except as otherwise provided by the Evidence Code. Penal Code section 832.8 defines personnel records as any file maintained under the officer’s name by his or her employing agency that relates to personal data, medical history, employee benefits, appraisals or discipline, and complaints or investigations.
Under the CPRA, a public agency must disclose requested records unless the records are specifically exempt under the act or if “on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.” The record of the appeal proceedings qualifies as a public record under the CPRA. However, section 6254 of the CPRA exempts from disclosure those records which federal or state law provide are exempt. California courts have previously recognized that Penal Code section 832.7 is an exemption to disclosure under state law within the meaning section 6254.
The Court concluded section 832.7’s confidentiality provision applies only to files maintained by the peace officer’s employing agency and does not apply to “information about a peace officer the source of which is other than the employing agency’s file maintained under the individual’s name, even if that information is duplicated in that file.” In San Diego Police Officers Association v. City of San Diego Civil Service Commission (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 275, the California Court of Appeal held that personnel records retain their confidentiality in the context of a disciplinary appeal. However, here the Court noted that, although information from an appeal may be added to an officer’s personnel file, the Commission’s records themselves do not necessarily become personnel files maintained by the officer’s employing agency. The Court concluded that section 6524 does not exempt information relating to a disciplinary appeal that comes from sources other than an officer’s personnel file, even if such information is duplicated in the personnel record.
The Court granted Copley’s request to release the identity of the disciplined police officer. It also found that Copley is entitled to the information it requested, redacted only to the extent that the information consists of documents from the officer’s personnel file or testimony that recites from such documents.
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