Public right to know wins twice

California government transparency and the public’s right to know have had a difficult time in the last few years. But with two important wins announced Monday from the California Supreme Court in San Francisco, several of the state’s worst recent roadblocks to freedom of information have been removed.

California’s highest bench ruled that government worker salaries and hiring records should be open to the public — overriding the arguments of a state commission, police and civil service unions, and an appeals court loss. In separate split decisions, both majority opinions were written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George.

The Los Angeles Times fought for five years to win their police hiring lawsuit. A reporter investigating tips about trouble-prone officers simply transferring to different California law enforcement agencies was stonewalled by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards, which collects such records statewide.

The Contra Costa Times sued to obtain the names and pay of Oakland employees earning $100,000 a year or more. The newspaper won in lower courts, but public employee unions appealed the case all the way to California’s top court.

By ruling twice in favor of California citizens’ right to know, the Supreme Court reopened wide swaths of public personnel information that previously was kept routinely inaccessible by government agencies. But such major wins are far too infrequent in this court.

The Supreme Court justices’ unfortunate year-old decision to halt public access to police misconduct hearings and records is still on the books. And a legislative bill to overturn the decision was defeated, at least for this session, by a frontal assault of serious arm-twisting by police unions.

It was this week in 2006 that Copley Press v. Superior Court essentially dismantled the long-standing legal precedent that proceedings and records of police misconduct hearings before independent bodies such as civilian review boards or police commissions must be fully open to the public.

The Copley decision held confidential San Diego Civil Service Commission records on appeals of internal affairs investigations of citizen complaints against police officers; because the commission’s disciplinary function was supposedly too similar to confidential police department personnel administration.

Senate Bill 1019, introduced by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, would have effectively overruled the Copley decision and restored open access. The legislation passed handily in the Senate. But upon reaching the Assembly Public Safety Committee last month it was effectively shelved without a single motion to vote it out of committee.

An open and transparent oversight process can only benefit the vast majority of fine officers who have nothing to hide, as The Examiner first stated in a May editorial supporting SB 1019. Police falsely accused will be more convincingly exonerated. It is vital that the public maintain trust in its police force and be willing to cooperate in criminal investigations.

General OpinionOpinion

Just Posted

California Highway Patrol officers watch as Caltrans workers remove barricades from homeless camp sites as residents are forced to relocate from a parking lot underneath Interstate 80 on Monday, May 17, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco’s broken promise to resolve homeless encampments

‘There is an idea that The City is leading with services, and they are not’

The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy
The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy
Whistleblowing hasn’t worked at San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection

DBI inspectors say their boss kept them off connected builders’ projects

FILE — Mort Sahl on Nov. 10, 1967. Sahl, who confronted Eisenhower-era cultural complacency with acid stage monologues, delivering biting social commentary in the guise of a stand-up comedian and thus changing the nature of both stand-up comedy and social commentary, died on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., near San Francisco. He was 94. (Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times)
Legendary local comedian dies at 94

By Bruce Weber NYTimes News Service Mort Sahl, who confronted Eisenhower-era cultural… Continue reading

Sharon Van Etten (left) reached out to Angel Olsen about working on a song and they ended up releasing “Like I Used To,” which may be performed at Outside Lands. (Photo by Dana Trippe)
Performers’ emotions are high as Outside Lands returns to San Francisco

Festival features Sharon Van Etten and Boy Scouts alongside The Strokes, Lizzo and Tame Impala

Most Read