Chronicle Publishing Company v. Superior Court was a case before the California Supreme Court in 1960 concerning open records requests relating to personal privacy.
This case established that complaints resulting in any kind of disciplinary action are public records and accessible upon request.
- Victor Cappa filed a libel lawsuit against the Chronicle Publishing Company, alleging the newspaper defamed his character and negatively affected his reputation.
- In the process of defending themselves against the suit, the Chronicle submitted a public records request to the State Bar for confidential information concerning complaints filed concerning Cappa. The Bar responded that no disciplinary action had been taken against Cappa in his 32 years as a member of the Bar and that any remaining complaints should not be released as they constitute personal information that would result in an invasion of privacy. The Bar acknowledged that complaints resulting in discipline are considered public records but contended that where no disciplinary action was taken ,the records should be exempt for privacy considerations.
- The court ruled in favor of the Bar.
- Chronicle Publishing Company appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the State Bar, declaring the information exempt based on privacy and the impact of the release on the public interest.
The Supreme Court for the most part affirmed the decision of the trial court but ordered the Bar to release certain information against the trial courts ruling.
The court first determined that the information present in the complaints is relevant because it contains the names of individuals who could be brought to testify against Cappa as well as any major complaints filed concerning his activities as an attorney. However, citing City & County of San Francisco v. Superior Court, the court determined that documents given in confidence would be protected by exemption from records requests under California law. The court determined that this exempted both the file assembled concerning Cappa prior to his admission to the Bar as well as all complaints submitted by individuals. The court held that the Bar rightfully withholds the right to exempt or release this information as they see fit according to the public good. However, the court did add that the Chronicle has a right to any information on complaints which received a private reproval, which may be present in Cappa's records as the Bar only claimed that Cappa had never been publicly disciplined. The court felt that a private reproval as much as a public one meant that whatever allegations the complaint contained were proved true and that they should thus become part of public record. Based on these facts, the court ordered the Bar to release information and testify as to any private reprovals applied in response to complaints concerning Cappa.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Ruling of the Court