Wednesday, August 22, 2001
Data on Daycare Employees With Convictions Must Be Disclosed—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Department of Social Services must turn over to CBS the names of people with criminal convictions who work in licensed daycare centers, under a ruling yesterday from this district’s Court of Appeal.
Since the names of people convicted of crimes is public information, and since the names of people who work in daycare centers also is public, the court ruled, the state cannot reject the television network’s request for names that fall into both categories.
Justice Daniel A. Curry of Div. Four acknowledged tension between an individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know, but in this case, he said, none of the privacy interests compelled nondisclosure.
To the extent that a person with a criminal conviction maintains a privacy interest in nondisclosure, Curry said, “he or she has subjected himself or herself to public review by virtue of applying for a license to work at, operate, or own a child care facility, which license also constitutes a matter of public record.”
The ruling arises from a request CBS made a year ago for records containing a list of people working in licensed daycare facilities who received exemptions, from 1995 to the present, from the rule that bars convicted criminals from such employment.
The Social Services Department is prohibited from granting exemptions for a broad range of convictions, including murder, rape, and offenses that require sex registration. But there are a number of convictions for which exemptions may be granted.
In 1999, 7,059 exemptions were granted, more than half of which were deemed eligible for a simplified process because the convictions were for minor crimes like petty theft, or were more than 10 years old.
The department is the only government agency responsible for licensing and overseeing child care facilities.
It denied the request for the data, saying state law protecting privacy prohibited disclosure. CBS sued in Los Angeles Superior Court early this year, and the agency responded by turning over a copy of its exemption manual and a description of how the exemption program worked, but persisted in denying the request for the list.
Government Code Sec. 6254 exempts personnel files from disclosure and in fact makes such disclosure illegal, the department argued.
It also asserted that reviewing records to distill the requested list would cost $43,500.
Department officials acknowledged that anyone with the name and date of birth of a person operating a licensed daycare center could go to a county clerk’s office, input that data into the computer, and find whether the person had suffered a conviction.
But CBS argued that there was more to the public nature of information than the ability, with a name and date of birth, to run a search.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason ruled for the department after noting that whatever data turned over to CBS would be misleading, since it would not contain mention of any rehabilitative efforts by those who had convictions.
But the Court of Appeal said the public had an “overwhelming” interest in assuring that the department did not abuse its discretion in granting exemptions to allow convicted applicants to work at child care centers.
Nondisclosure is not compelled by the Government or Penal codes, Curry said. He noted that CBS was not seeking privileged information, such as the nature of the criminal convictions suffered by the people granted exemptions, or their dates of birth or physical descriptions.
“In any event, the fact that an individual suffered a criminal conviction, as conceded by DSS, is a matter of public record,” the justice said, meaning that disclosure does not violate the Penal Code.
The case is CBS Broadcasting Inc. v. Superior Court, California Department of Social Services, RPI, B148502.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company