Capitol Alert

Ruling could open California legislative records

Then-state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate, then-Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk at the Capitol in January 2014. Both face federal corruption charges.
Then-state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate, then-Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk at the Capitol in January 2014. Both face federal corruption charges. AP

California’s open-records section of the constitution does not exclude the Legislature, a Sacramento County judge has ruled, advancing a newspaper group’s lawsuit seeking legislative records.

The Bay Area News Group sued the California Senate and California Legislature last summer, seeking appointment books, calendars, and other records of indicted then-lawmakers Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Senate officials had denied the requests, asserting that the requested records were exempt under the Legislative Open Records Act.

Legislative attorneys had asked a judge to scuttle the lawsuit, claiming that legislative records were exempt under a 2004 open-records constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Legislature, Proposition 59. Judge Michael Kenny disagreed. “If the intent of Proposition 59 was to exclude legislative proceedings and records from its reach, it could have plainly so stated,” Kenny wrote in an April 3 decision.

Plaintiffs Attorney Duffy Carolan said Kenny’s decision to let the case proceed was groundbreaking.

“It’s the first ruling to say legislative records are subject to the constitution,” she said. “That’s an important legal victory that’s not going to change whether or not we get the records.”

Attorneys will next argue over whether the records should be exempted from public disclosure on the grounds that their release would pose a threat to lawmakers’ security and other reasons. The next scheduled hearing is May 1.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

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