The files of the State Bar of California are not subject to the California Public Records Act or the judicial branchs own rules for public access to its administrative records, but under the common law they may be subject to public inspection provided the Bar can show no overriding interest in privacy or other confidentiality. So ruled the California Court of Appeal for the First District in its decision filed today in Sander v. State Bar. The plaintiff is an academic researcher who is seeking statistics showing the Bar exam passage rate of minority studentswith no names attached. He is attempting to determine if law schools affirmative action policies have resulted in the graduation of minority students who are unusually ill-prepared to pass the Bar exam. The trial court in San Francisco ruled that the common law does not create a presumption of access to Bar records a conclusion that would leave that institution uniquely insulated from public scrutiny among all public entities in the state. Todays decision sends the case back to the trial court for further consideration of the common laws default rule of transparency balanced against whatever public interest in nondisclosure the Bar may argue.
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About the Author: Terry Francke, General Counsel
Terry Francke has a 35-year history of helping journalists, citizens and public officials understand and use their First Amendment and open government rights. With CalAware, Francke has authored comprehensive and authoritative guidebooks to California law on access to government meetings and public records and the news gathering and publication rights of journalists. Focusing on these issues in public forum law, he supervises CalAware's legislative and litigation initiatives; conducts workshops on legal compliance; helps design public records audits; supports local sunshine ordinance drafting efforts; writes CalAware Today, a blog on current developments and proposals in the law and best practices; and answers countless queries by phone and e-mail from citizens, journalists, public officials and employees, and lawyers.
Francke previously served 14 years as executive director and general counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has served as an advisory panel member to the National Center on Courts and the Media; taught journalism law at the Department of Communication at Stanford University; and served as an expert contributor to the 1994 major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act and the 2004 ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution.
Francke is a 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. Prior to his legal career, Francke worked as a weekly newspaper editor and in military and local government public affairs positions.