A firearms fanciers' organization is jubilant over a decision by a Ventura County Superior Court judge Tuesday ordering the sheriff to make public information on who has applied to his office for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and among those applicants who has been denied, Adam Foxman reports in the Ventura County Star. The prevailing plaintiffs in the case may thank the memory of a certain voter-removed Chief Justice of California for the leading decision that makes such information public.
The Calguns Foundation Inc. filed a lawsuit in October after the Ventura County Sheriff's Department refused to release all the records the group requested under the California Public Records Act.
The department provided much of the data but did not release documents on why concealed-weapon permits were approved or denied.
California sheriffs have discretion in deciding legitimate reasons for carrying a concealed weapon and granting permits, and the foundation wanted documents to evaluate the standards that were applied, said Gene Hoffman, chairman of the San Carlos-based nonprofit group.
The foundation, which requested the information as part of a project to help people with the permit process, also wanted to ensure the sheriff's decisions were consistent, Hoffman said.
County officials argued the withheld documents included personal information and details about applicants' vulnerabilities that could compromise their safety, and that redacting the private information as Calguns suggested would cost more than $14,600.
In a "statement of intended decision" dated Friday, Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh sided with Calguns.
Concealed-weapon permit applications contain a warning that all of the information may be subject to public disclosure, and privacy interests can be protected by redacting some information, Walsh wrote. The foundation agreed some personal details, such as Social Security numbers, could be withheld.
Citing a similar case involving CBS and Los Angeles County, the judge wrote that while releasing the information possibly could pose risks for permit holders, that danger was conjecture and not a valid reason to withhold it. Responding to the county's argument that redacting the documents would be "financially oppressive," the judge called the county's estimate that the task would take nearly 30 work days "seemingly generous." He suggested using a lower-paid administrative person to do the work rather than a sworn deputy costing the overtime rate of $68 an hour — a suggestion "not favorably received by counsel for the county," he said.
The judge ruled the county should produce the requested documents within 45 days and redact details such as when the applicant is potentially vulnerable to attack, home and business addresses, and the specific weapon authorized.
As the prevailing party, Calguns also is entitled to have its legal costs reimbursed by the county, the judge wrote.
The decision will become final unless the county files an appeal within 15 days.
Assistant County Counsel Marina Porche said Wednesday the county was analyzing the decision and had not decided whether to appeal. She would not elaborate.
"At this point, we have won the lawsuit," Hoffman said, adding he expects to receive the permit information within two months. "We're very pleased."
Calguns plans to redact applicants' names and other personal information, then post on its website portions of successful applications, he said. He said the foundation can redact more information if applicants are uncomfortable.
Calguns requested information from all 58 counties in California, and Ventura was the only one to be sued under the Public Records Act, Hoffman said.
He said about 60 percent of counties complied, 20 percent asked for administrative fees his organization considered illegal, and 20 percent refused to release information.
"I expect it's going to bring everyone else into compliance pretty quickly," he said of the judge's decision.