First Amendment Coalition Releases Details of Recent Battles

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN RAFAEL, CA – The First Amendment Coalition this week released details of several recent battles it’s waged to retain protections for people and society under the Constitution’s 1st Amendment, including public record requests and one about a lawyer wanting to stop a newspaper from publishing.

In that one, the coalition said it stopped a lawyer from attempting to “prohibit speech before it’s spoken, published, or written.”

The courts, said FAC, call this “prior restraint,” and “regarded it as the ‘essence of censorship,’” adding, “one lawyer still tried” when the Vallejo Sun contacted Vallejo police officer Ryan McMahon about his history of alleged misconduct.

Apparently, reports FAC, his lawyer, Lenore Albert, warned the Sun not to publish the story, and wrote: “Do not do a story on it, or else I will see you in court with an ex parte application to prohibit you from using it.” Albert then filed an “ex parte application” to prevent the paper from publishing the story.

The same day the story was published, FAC said it filed this friend-of-the-court brief, writing “Albert’s attempt to censor the Vallejo Sun would be an unconstitutional prior restraint. The court agreed, and denied Albert’s application.”

In another matter, FAC said an “Appeals Court Finds Police Drone Footage Not Categorically Exempt from Public Records Act,” explaining “Last May, FAC, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted a friend-of-the-court letter in Castañares v. Superior Court in the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

“The letter argued that the trial court erred when it held that all drone video footage from liftoff to landing was covered by the California Public Records Act’s investigatory records exemption.”

The letter, added FAC, “explains that the investigatory records exemption must be narrowly limited to investigations of specific crimes and does not cover all calls for service or every minute of every drone flight.

“Drones are used for all types of activities that are unrelated to criminal investigations, such as welfare checks, surveying a natural disaster, or as FAC Legal Director told the San Diego Union-Tribune: ‘It could be that my cat is missing.’”

On December 27, 2023, the Court of Appeal “issued a decision agreeing with our position that police drone video footage is not categorically exempt from disclosure as an investigatory record.” See more at:

Finally, FAC reports the “California Supreme Court Grants Review in Major Public Records Case,” noting, “Under the California Public Records Act, public agencies must make a thorough search for records requested by a member of the public.

“However, in October 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal held that in a CPRA case, City of Gilroy v. Superior Court, courts can only decide whether an agency unlawfully withheld specific records. That ruling threatens to eviscerate the CPRA because it would effectively prevent courts from reviewing whether agencies gathered all responsive records. The court also held agencies have no duty to retain records that have been requested.”

FAC then sent a letter in December 2023, asking the California Supreme Court to hear the case, noting, “Although the power to order disclosure is essential, it is not sufficient to ensure robust enforcement of the CPRA, which depends on holding agencies accountable for the failure to conduct an adequate search,’ and agencies cannot be “free to sabotage the CPRA with impunity by ignoring their search obligations.”

The court, in February, agreed and granted review.

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