Members of the California Supreme Court suggested yesterday that state law gives the public the right to know the names and salaries of government employees, including police officers, the Los Angeles Times reports. During two hours of oral argument, the court reviewed cases brought by two newspapers, the Contra Costa Times and the Los Angeles Times, seeking access to information about public employees. The Contra Costa newspaper sought the names and pay of Oakland employees earning $100,000 or more. The high court appeared ready to rule in favor of the media but also to carve out exceptions for rare cases in which revealing an officer’s identity could threaten his or her safety.
In the Los Angeles Times case, the court seemed divided over whether the public was entitled to state records showing the names of police officers and when they were hired or had left police agencies. The Times requested the information from the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to try to track the movement of problem officers from department to department. During argument on the Contra Costa case, attorneys for the unions opposing disclosure of names and pay said releasing such information could make workers vulnerable to identification theft and targeted mass marketing, and invade the privacy rights of police officers. Said Chief Justice Ronald George: “I don’t understand what is so personally intrusive about knowing what somebody on the public payrolls is earning. Doesn’t the public have a right to know?”