A Sacramento Superior Court judge has ruled that the California Assembly must disclose budget records of individual lawmakers, handing a victory to newspapers that filed a lawsuit accusing legislators of flouting the state's open records laws.
The Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers sued the legislative body after records requests by The Times, the Pasadena Sun and the Sacramento Bee were denied.
The newspapers sought data on the budgets after Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) complained in June that Democratic Assembly leaders slashed his staff budget as political payback for voting against the party's budget proposal.
"This is a huge victory for transparency and accountability," Portantino said in a statement after the Thursday decision. "This issue is no longer about me, but is now about making Sacramento function better by using transparency to improve decision-making and the democratic process."
Attorney Kelli Sager, who represented the newspapers, said the decision was a "strong affirmation of the public's right to know how the state Legislature is spending taxpayer dollars."
A tentative ruling Thursday in favor of the newspapers went into effect after attorneys for the Assembly declined to contest the ruling in oral arguments Friday. The order, however, is not technically final until signed by Judge Timothy Frawley.
Assembly lawyers, who also could appeal the decision, were not immediately available for comment.
Frawley wrote that "the court is persuaded that the strong public interest in disclosure outweighs any reason for keeping the records secret."
Attorneys for the Legislature had argued that it need not disclose the information under the Legislative Open Records Act.
"In a somewhat ironic twist," Frawley wrote, "the Assembly argues the 'Open Records Act' should be given a narrow interpretation that significantly restricts the public's right to inspect legislative records. Further, the Assembly argues that the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers prohibits this court from enforcing any other interpretation. Both arguments lack merit."