This Special Bulletin was authored by J. Scott Tiedemann & Lars T. Reed

Over the past three months, since California Senate Bill 1421 went into effect on January 1, 2019, numerous public agencies across California have been involved in litigation over whether the new law applies to records created before 2019. After conflicting decisions from various superior courts, some of which we discussed in a previous blog post, the California Court of Appeal has now issued the first published decision addressing this issue.

The ruling comes in Walnut Creek Police Officers’ Association v. City of Walnut Creek et al., which was a consolidated appeal of six different lawsuits brought by peace officer unions against various public agencies in Contra Costa County.  The unions had each petitioned for injunctive relief limiting SB 1421 disclosures to records created after January 1, 2019. The superior court denied the petitions, and the unions challenged the ruling in the Court of Appeal.

In a decision published on March 29, 2019, the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, upheld the superior court’s decision. The Court ruled that applying SB 1421 to older records does not make the law impermissibly retroactive: “Although the records may have been created prior to 2019, the event necessary to ‘trigger application’  of the new law—a request for records maintained by an agency—necessarily occurs after the law’s effective date.” The Court also explained that the new law “does not change the legal consequences for peace officer conduct described in pre-2019 records. … Rather, the new law changes only the public’s right to access peace officer records.”

As a published appellate court decision, the Court’s ruling in this case is binding precedent in all superior court proceedings across California unless or until there is a contrary opinion published by a different Court of Appeal, or by the Supreme Court.