Public agencies must disclose bills for legal fees in response to Public Records Act requests, except for pending litigation

In Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (Real Party ACLU of Southern California), the California Supreme Court held that legal bills are not generally exempt from public records requests.

The attorney-client privilege protects communications for the purpose of seeking or providing the attorney’s legal advice or representation.  It is unlikely that the purpose of an invoice would be to communicate legal advice, but rather would be for the purpose of securing payment.

However, an invoice may be privileged if it risks exposing confidential information for the purpose of legal representation.  For example, the Court decided that during active litigation, disclosing invoices arising from that litigation would risk revealing legal strategy.  On the other hand, the Court reasoned that the same danger does not apply after the litigation has concluded.

Under the California Public Records Act, members of the public have the right to find out what public entitles are paying their outside counsel, as long as those legal bills are not connected with ongoing litigation.

For more information regarding Public Records Act requests, particularly the legal bills paid by public agencies, please contact your labor law counsel.

By Anne Yen | January 19, 2017

Legal Developments