Talk about fun — it’s “Redaction Palooza” time!
A large law firm specializing in public agency representation — including dozens of cities and special districts in California — is offering a series of online seminars so public workers can learn how to use exemptions under the California Public Records Act.
What a hoot!
We turn, for clarity, to the dictionary definitions of “redaction” (the censoring or obscuring of part of a text) and “palooza” (a wild, crazy and extravagant party). This bacchanalian fete costs just $750 per attendee — public money spent, if we’re understanding this correctly, to help keep records from the public.
“If you are a public agency who wants to learn more about exemptions available through the California Public Records Act, this training series is for you!” the Redaction Palooza website crows. “In half-hour sessions, presenters will provide an in-depth look into specific exemptions, including best practices for common exemptions.”
A sampling of topics covered, where “privilege” may be read as “don’t tell”: Investigatory Privilege. Deliberative Process Privilege. Official Information Privilege. Attorney Client Privilege. Claim one of these, and those records might remain snug in your desk, or be heavily blacked out if they’re produced. Whew!
Sensing our alarm, the law firm in question — Best Best & Krieger — urged calm.
“As a law firm that represents several public agencies throughout California, we regularly do training of all types,” said BB&K’s Christine Wood by email. “Redaction Palooza is designed to help agencies learn more about how to properly assert applicable PRA exemptions.”
The word “palooza,” she said, refers to the big number of sessions — 26 — and not a frenzy of redactions.
There’s not much detail on precisely what’s covered in the sessions. When we asked for more information, we were told to check the Redaction Palooza website next week.
Then we asked for a list of public clients in California. “We don’t have such a list nor would provide one,” we were told. Which didn’t boost our confidence that the public’s right to know the public’s business is at the tippy top of BB&K’s priority list, which is where it should be.
Now, even though BB&K is paid with public dollars by public agencies for public work, it is not itself a public agency, which explains its refusal to provide a client list (though it could have been more forthcoming; that information is, of course, a matter of public record at the agencies themselves, and certainly not a matter of, um, attorney-client privilege).
We didn’t have the time or staff to survey all 58 counties, 482 cities, 1,021 school districts and thousands of special districts in California to see if they were BB&K clients and/or if they were attending the Redaction Palooza, but we did survey a sample.
“The City of San Juan Capistrano contracts with Best, Best & Krieger for general municipal legal services,” said City Manager Benjamin Siegel. “Staff from the City Clerk’s office is participating in the webinars for training on the CPRA. The cost is $750.”
We noted that the title seems to suggest that BB&K is helping agencies figure out how NOT to release public information, and asked if it struck him that way, too
“We’re a small agency and have two employees in the clerk’s office,” he said. “The $750 covers both of their attendance at the various webinars throughout the year; they attend based on the topic and its application to the services we provide (and the records we retain) here in a contract city.
“I’m not sure anyone here paid attention to the title,” he continued. “Our interest is merely to ensure that our staff understands the various aspects of the CPRA, which is evolving regularly based on new state legislation, so that we can maintain compliance.”
BB&K has offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Irvine, Riverside, Ontario, Indian Wells and Walnut Creek, as well as Washington, D.C. Many agencies have done business with the firm over the years, including the Anaheim Transportation Network, San Clemente, Aliso Viejo, Los Alamitos, Apple Valley, Avalon, Ontario, San Jacinto, Laguna Beach, the Santa Margarita Water District, the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, the Municipal Water District of Orange County … the list goes on.
Most said they had never heard of the Palooza and weren’t planning on participating. Those who’ll be skipping the party include Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods, Buena Park, Garden Grove, La Palma, Mission Viejo, Laguna Beach, Rancho Santa Margarita, Villa Park, Huntington Beach, MWDOC, El Toro Water District, South Coast Water District and Trabuco Canyon Water District.
Palooza sessions are held every two weeks through mid-December.
“The first thing we say is, ‘The right to public records is enshrined in the California constitution,’” said HongDao Nguyen, partner with BB&K. “Public records are the people’s records — I personally feel very strongly about that.
“But we say that there are these exemptions and we have to follow them, because if we don’t, the agency can be sued. There are personnel records, health records, business records, that are proprietary and confidential. We represent a lot of cities and some have just one person dealing with public records — that’s a lot for any person, as experienced as they may be, to have to retain in addition to all the other things they deal with. It was not at all meant to be ‘we’re trying to teach anyone to do wrong.’ Rule No. 1 is public transparency.”
Perhaps the myriad public agencies that have been sitting on our public records requests for years are listening.