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Weaver v. Superior Court (The District Attorney's Office of San Diego County)

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

March 12, 2014

LA TWON REGINAL WEAVER, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Respondent THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY et al., Real Parties in Interest.

PROCEEDINGS in mandate after the superior court denied a request for public records, San Diego County Super. Ct. No. 37–2013–00032402 –CU–WM–CTL Richard E. L. Strauss, Judge.

James S. Thomson, Elisabeth Semel, Ty Alper, for the Petitioner.

Thomas E. Montgomery, County Counsel, Deborah A. McCarthy, Assistant County Counsel, Claudia Anzures, C. Ellen Pilsecker, George W. Brewster, Jr., Chief Deputy Attorneys, William Allen Johnson, Jr., Senior Deputy Attorney for Real Parties in Interest.

O'ROURKE, J.

BACKGROUND

In this writ proceeding, petitioner La Twon Reginal Weaver, who is a prisoner sentenced to death, seeks various records from the District Attorney's Office of San Diego County (District Attorney) under the California Public Records Act (CPRA; Gov. Code, [1] § 6250 et seq.) to assist in investigating whether the District Attorney impermissibly sought the death penalty based on the race of the defendant, the victim, or both.

In January 2013, as relevant here, Weaver requested the District Attorney provide him with (1) copies of all charging documents in homicide cases filed by the District Attorney between January 1977 and May 1993 and (2) all court filings in superior court cases People v. Troiani, et al. (Super. Ct. S.D. County, No. CRN9925) and People v. Moffett (Super. Ct. S.D. County, No. CR103094) addressing allegations the District Attorney selectively prosecuted capital cases.

The District Attorney denied Weaver's requests on grounds that under the CPRA, the documents sought were exempt as investigatory files (§ 6254, subd. (f)); and prohibited from disclosure under a different state or federal law (§ 6254, subd. (k)). The District Attorney further argued the documents sought implicate the privacy rights of "hundreds of defendants and victims under article I, sections 1 and 28, of the California [C]onstitution." The District Attorney also objected that Weaver's request for the list of homicide cases was overly burdensome because "programming and extraction of the data necessary to identify the records would require approximately 35-40 hours of time at a cost of $85 per hour for a total of approximately $3, 400." The District Attorney noted Weaver's request was duplicative of one he had made in postconviction discovery under Penal Code section 1054.9.[2]

Weaver filed a writ petition in superior court seeking to compel the District Attorney to produce the documents. The superior court denied the petition, adopting the District Attorney's position set forth above, except that the court did not rule on the issue of the request's burdensomeness.

We issued an order to show cause. The District Attorney filed an unverified return, to which Weaver replied.

DISCUSSION

In response to our request for supplemental briefing, and also at oral argument, the District Attorney acknowledged that the documents Weaver seeks are the District Attorney's file copies of "court documents" whose originals were filed in the superior court. (The Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 106 [defining "court documents" to include "the various documents filed in or received by the court, such as pleadings and motions filed by the parties and the evidence admitted in court proceedings. All of these documents represent and reflect the official work of the court, in which the public and press have a justifiable interest."].) The issue we decide is whether the District Attorney's copies of judicial documents-which must be made available to the public upon request at the superior court-are entitled to exemption from disclosure as investigatory documents under the CPRA or because they implicate privacy rights. We conclude the documents sought are not exempt from disclosure. As the California Supreme Court has stated: "We consider it unlikely the Legislature intended to render documents confidential based on their location." (Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 278, 291 [quoting Williams v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 337, 355 for the proposition that "the law does not provide... that a public agency may shield a record from public disclosure, regardless of its nature, simply by placing it in a file labeled 'investigatory' "].) The same principle applies here. "[T]he content of the document at issue, not the location in which it is stored, [is] determinative." (Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training v. Superior Court, at p. 291.)

In enacting the CPRA, the Legislature sought to provide the public broad access to documents regarding how government agencies carry out their responsibilities. "Endorsing the proposition 'that access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state' (§ 6250), the Legislature enacted the [CPRA] 'for the purpose of increasing freedom of information by giving members of the public access to information in the possession of public agencies.' [Citation.] Legislative policy favors disclosure. [Citation.] 'All public records are subject to disclosure unless the [CPRA] expressly provides otherwise.' " (American Civil Liberties Union of Northern Cal. v. Superior Court (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 55, 67.) "Since disclosure is favored, all exemptions are narrowly construed. [Citation.] The agency opposing disclosure bears the burden of proving that an exemption applies." (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1301, 1321.)

As a matter of due process, the District Attorney is required to file a complaint in each criminal case to invoke the court's jurisdiction. (City of San Diego v. Municipal Court (1980) 102 Cal.App.3d 775, 778; Pen. Code, §§ 737 ["All felonies shall be prosecuted by indictment or information, except as provided in [Penal Code] Section 859a."]; 738 ["The proceeding for a preliminary examination must be commenced by written complaint"]; 949 ["The first pleading on the part of the people in the superior court in a felony case is the indictment, information, or the complaint in any case certified to the superior court under [Penal Code] Section 859a. The first pleading on the part of the people in a misdemeanor or infraction case is the complaint except as otherwise provided by law."].) Because they were publicly filed, the charging documents Weaver seeks are not investigatory files exempt from disclosure under the CPRA. Similarly, the documents he seeks from the Troiani and M ...


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