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PLN files public records suit against San Francisco Sheriff's Dept.

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press release - PLN files public records suit against San Francisco Sheriff's Dept. 2009


Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

August 20, 2009


San Francisco, CA – Prison Legal News (PLN), a national non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, filed suit today in Superior Court against the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Michael Hennessey and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, to obtain public records under the Public Records Act.

PLN’s suit alleges that the defendants have failed to comply with their statutory obligations under the Act.

On July 9, 2008, PLN submitted a request to Sheriff Hennessey for records related to litigation against the Sheriff’s Department, including payouts in settlements and verdicts resulting from tort, overdetention and civil rights claims involving prisoners and jail employees.

PLN’s records request was forwarded to the City Attorney’s office, which on December 17, 2008 produced a spreadsheet that included information about litigation payouts in 722 cases. However, City Attorney Dennis Herrera admitted that the spreadsheet was not "all encompassing." On March 27, 2009, PLN provided additional information regarding its initial Public Records Act request, which it narrowed, and submitted a supplementary request for litigation payouts since the date the original request was filed. No response was received, and the defendants failed to produce all of the records requested by PLN, which clearly are public records, in a timely manner.

PLN’s lawsuit notes that according to state law, "public records are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the state or local agency and every person has as right to inspect any public record." Government agencies are also required "upon a request for a copy of records" to make requested records "promptly available to any person" and to provide "an exact copy." Further, the San Francisco Administrative Code provides that "The right of people to know what their government and those acting on behalf of their government are doing is fundamental to democracy, and with very few exceptions, that right supersedes any other policy interest government officials may use to prevent public access to information."

"The amount, type and cost of litigation involving the Sheriff’s Department related to prisoners and employees is a matter of public interest, and reflects on the efficacy and adequacy of San Francisco’s jail operations," said PLN editor Paul Wright. PLN’s counsel, Sanford Rosen, stated that "The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent."

The case is Prison Legal News v. City and County of San Francisco, Superior Court, County of San Francisco, Case No. CGC 09 491641. PLN is represented by Sanford Jay Rosen, Elizabeth Eng and Kenneth M. Walczak of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, a San Francisco law firm.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. PLN is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright
Prison Legal News, Editor
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 275-8594 or
(802) 257-1342

Sanford Jay Rosen, Atty.
Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP
315 Montgomery Street, 10th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 433-6830
(415) 433-7104 fax