Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Measure to Bar Posting Judges’, Other Public Officials’ Personal Data on Internet Clears Assembly Committee
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—Legislation designed to keep personal information about judges and other government employees out of the hands of the public was approved yesterday by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
AB 2238, authored by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Brandlin and carried by Assemblyman Richard Dickerson, R-Redding, would make it a misdemeanor for any person to knowingly and without permission post the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official on the Internet with the intent to cause imminent physical harm.
The violation, which also would apply to the official’s spouse and children, would be elevated to a felony if it resulted in bodily injury to any of the protected individuals.
Along with judges, the protections would apply to district attorneys, public defenders, city attorneys, gubernatorial appointees, members of city councils and boards of supervisors, mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all state constitutional officers.
Although the primary intent of the measure has remained the same since it was introduced in February, specifics were vague yesterday—even to a member of the author’s staff—due to last-minute amendments made by Public Safety Committee consultants.
“I don’t really know what’s in it,” Heidi Hannaman, Dickerson’s legislative director, said.
“It passed the first committee and nobody except maybe the consultant and maybe the members [of the committee] knows what it says,” Thomas Newton, a lobbyist for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said.
Still, the committee’s 4-0 approval of AB 2238 was welcomed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles County Bar Association and organizations representing public defenders, district attorneys and law enforcement officers.
Supporters maintain that under California’s Public Records Act, it is too easy for people with bad intentions to gain access to personal information about public servants, and to use that information to threaten government employees.
The supporters cite a website that lists home phone numbers and addresses for Washington state troopers, and even provides information on where officers’ children attend school and where their spouses work.
Los Angeles Public Defender Michael Judge said in a letter to lawmakers that his employees “are increasingly at risk from persons engaged in stalking, harassing, threatening, and assaultive behavior,” and that AB 2238 would provide needed protection.
Opposition has come from financial institutions and newspapers concerned that the legislation would create red tape for property transactions and would shield the government from public scrutiny and accountability.
Newspaper lobbyist Newton said the bill would allow some of the most newsworthy people in the state — powerful politicians and judges who decide major cases — to avoid accountability by, among other things, registering children for school without providing a home address, getting a driver’s license without providing an address and obtaining business licenses anonymously.
“Here we have a Public Records Act in which generally all people are treated equally ... and we’re going down a road in which we’re going to end up with two Public Records Acts, one for the powerful elite and one for us regular folks,” Newton said. “If this policy [in AB 2238] is good for judges, why isn’t it good for you and me?”
A representative of the California Bankers Association said the bill would snarl the process of buying property from anyone whose information is shielded from public disclosure. Without access to names and addresses, the company seeking to finance the purchase would have no way of knowing whether the listed seller is legally entitled to market the property, the banking lobbyist told lawmakers.
The two sides will square off again when the bill faces its next vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A hearing date has not yet been set.
Hannaman said the legislation would add a new expense for the state, as state workers would be required to redact information from a large number of documents, but there is no cost estimate. Due to the state’s budget problems, Dickerson is considering amendments to have officials pay the cost themselves with a fee on those who ask to have their personal information protected, his aide said.
Others involved in the process have discussed as mechanism under which public officials’ residence can be discovered when it becomes a the subject of dispute, for example in a case in which a candidate is alleged to live outside the district in which he or she is running.
Brandlin, who testified before the committee earlier this month, said the bill was never meant to keep businesses or other private firms or individuals from retaining home address data when it was obtained with the officials’ permission.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company