Pismo Beach loses Public Record Act lawsuit

January 29, 2024


A man seeking police officer oaths of office won his public records lawsuit against the City of Pismo Beach last week, in a case over redactions that has already cost taxpayers over $35,000.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen last week ordered the City of Pismo Beach to turn over unredacted oaths of office for two police officers to plaintiff Sean Martin. The judge also ordered the city to pay Martin’s court costs, filing fees and process service expenses.

On Dec. 8, 2021, Martin made a public records request for the oaths of office for two officers. After the city failed to provide the documents in the 10 days required by law, Martin reminded the city of his request.

More than 20 days after Martin made his request, the city emailed Martin the oaths of office with the signatures redacted.

After Martin demanded an unredacted copy, Dave Fleishman, an attorney contracted to provide legal work for the city, argued the city had legal authority to redact signatures from subscribed oaths of office to “better serve the public,” and to protect officers from “identity theft.”

Martin then filed a lawsuit against the city.

“The City of Pismo Beach has completely failed to justify it’s arbitrary and random redaction of signatures from it’s employees subscribed oaths of office,” Martin says in his trial brief. “Here, the city denied plaintiff access to non-exempt records without offering him any legal foundation or coherent reasoning.”

Fleishman argued the city followed public records law and was not required to produce unredacted documents because public interest in nondisclosure was high.

“Here, there is a strong interest in redacting the signatures because disclosure of the signatures would negatively impact public safety by allowing the fraudulent misappropriation of officer signatures,” Fleishman wrote in his trial brief. “The constitutional right to privacy protects, among other things, interests in precluding the dissemination or misuse of sensitive and confidential information.”

Martin disagreed, saying public oath takers have no more right to privacy than other members of the community.

“Oath takers have no more expectation of privacy in their signatures on their oaths than plaintiff
does in his signature on this court filing,” according to Martin’s brief.

During the past 10 years, government agencies having increasingly had attorneys – who often financially benefit from reviewing records request – review even standard California Public Record Act demands.

Before trial, Fleishman estimated his cost at $35,000.

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Lawyers and weatherman can be completely wrong and still get paid. Again the taxpayer is stuck for the tab.

Dave Fleishman’s new title Editor in Chief of Public Record.

Why do public servants keep denying their records are public information not private?

Not sure that anyone has the right to see or the need to see the signature of someone else via their employment records.

Seems a really odd thing for the Pismo city boneheads to dig in their heels over. That money had better public uses than this.

I agree, every time a cop hands out a ticket it has their signature on it.

Bureaucratic obfuscation seems to be the M.O. our local Ol’Boy networks.

As we have learned city attorneys are not there to protect the residents and make sure the city administration does things legallly, they are there to cover up for the illegal things the administration does and try to keep the residents in the dark and too scared to question the actions of the council.

There is no “ constitutional right to privacy.”

One could argue the 4th Amendment offers some but there is no explicit, clear, constitutional right to privacy. Maybe there should be?

The 4thA is most certainly a citizen’s Constitutional right to privacy. The Constitution enumerates what the government cannot do. One of those, is to pry into my private affairs, papers, and holdings.

However, since the government is “of the people”, public employees in matters concerning their employment…like affirmation of oaths of office, do not enjoy privacy of public records.

Public servants (Cops-Firemen etc) and employees (office pukes-elected officials etc) give up many of their Constitutional rights, as part of their employment to serve the citizens, and cannot be secreted from public scrutiny.

Any Soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine will tell you just that.

Griswold vs. Connecticut 381 U.S.479 (1965) says otherwise. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized a Consitutional right to privacy almost 60 years ago. If you want to play lawyer, at least do a 20 second Google search first.

The facts are mostly irrelevant. The law is whatever a lawyer can convince a judge and/or jury to go along with. If you want to play lawyer at least recognize what we are see with our own eyes.

You’re making my point. Griswold was about private citizens not being subjected to government intrusion upon their private affairs. SCOTUS ruled the the government violated the couple’s 4th AND 14th Amendment right to privacy, and vacated the lower court ruling.

You need to read what you Google searched…

SORRY LEGAL1931!! I failed to see that you responded to derasmus, not me. Which certainly makes my response rather baffling!

District counsels do make a lot of money reviewing, delaying, and redacting public records. Few people take them to court. Good this was taken to court.

The California Public Records Act is the public’s most powerful tool to keep the searchlight on our local government. It needs to be respected by all agencies and not gamed.