Legal invoices in inmate suits are exempt from open records law, California court says
A California appeals court last week turned down an open records request for invoices documenting legal fees paid to law firms defending Los Angeles County in inmate lawsuits.
The California Court of Appeal, Second District, ruled (PDF) on April 13 that the records were confidential communications that were exempt from the state’s open records law, report the ABA BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct (reg. req.) and the Recorder (sub. req.).
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California had sought billing records for nine lawsuits, saying the records could help determine whether the county “engaged in ‘scorched earth’ litigation tactics and dragged out cases even when a settlement was in the best interest of the county.”
The ACLU said in an appellate brief that the sheriff’s department accounted for nearly half of $53 million in litigation expenses by Los Angeles County in fiscal 2012-13, and outside firms received nearly $40 million of the money.
A trial court granted access to the records in three cases that had been resolved, with some information redacted, and the ACLU appealed. The appeals court said a statutory exemption for documents protected by attorney-client privilege protected the documents from disclosure in their entirety.