In 2022, UC Berkeley received almost 3,000 information and record requests through the California Public Records Act, or CPRA, handled by a staff of two, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.
On April 26, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit alleging that campus had failed to fulfill its legal responsibilities to make its records “promptly available” for public review.
“We want a full understanding of what the situation is before we do anything about it,” said Rachel Lerman, general counsel for the Brandeis Center. “It is part of civil rights to be able to get access to government documents and that’s what California promises us and has very strong rules about that.
This lawsuit comes after the Brandeis Center filed three CPRA requests for access to documents relating to antisemitism and Zionism. These included documents relating to the adoption of a Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine bylaw which stated they would not host, sponsor or promote speakers who support Zionism. The bylaw was also adopted by several other registered student organizations on campus. The first such request was made in December 2022.
Additionally, the Brandeis Center requested writings and discussions by Berkeley Law administrators, Berkeley Law offices and UC Berkeley’s Office of the Chancellor from Aug. 1, 2022 to the date the request is fulfilled, specifically those that relate to this bylaw.
According to the lawsuit case file, the Center also requested access to all records and writings from the ASUC relating to the Feb. 6 and Feb. 15 ASUC Senate meetings discussing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
Campus claimed that the CPRA request pertains to thousands of documents but shared only a copy of a single email chain by Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and respondents, Lerman said.
She alleged the Center believes campus may be withholding documents, using the number of documents as an excuse, adding that it is not uncommon to file a lawsuit after submitting a CPRA request against a government organization or public university to force them to fulfill the request in a complete and timely manner.
In response to these allegations, Mogulof said campus believes they are, however, adequately responding to the Center’s request and are taking it seriously, emphasizing the broad nature of the request that, as Mogulof noted, would require searching through thousands of records.
“We believe the campus is complying with its obligation to respond to the requests from the Brandeis Center, which initially requested the production of thousands of documents,” Mogulof said in an email. “We will continue to do so, irrespective of the filing of the lawsuit.”
However, the Center has already narrowed the scope of their request, Lerman noted. Mogulof added that campus is continuing to work with the Brandeis Center to narrow the requests further.
Mogulof said campus disagrees with the allegations of the lawsuit and claims it has fulfilled its legal responsibilities. He added that campus is not withholding any documents that they are required to provide and “always complies” with public records law.
Despite campus’s assertion of their legal compliance, Lerman said the Center had hoped that by modifying their request, they would receive the information they sought without needing to resort to legal action.
“We were hoping that by narrowing the request and doing what they asked we would get the correct response without filing the lawsuit,” Lerman said. “After we made three requests it reached a point where we felt we had to do something.”
Some of the records requested by the Brandeis Center, such as the ASUC’s records, are not accessible by campus, Mogulof noted. He added that as in accordance with the law campus will acknowledge and send an initial response to any CPRA request within the 10-day limit, but there is no standard amount of time needed to procure the actual records requested.
While campus aims to provide records as quickly as possible, the amount of time needed depends on the quantity of records, the number of people who possess requested records and other factors, Mogulof added.
Still, according to Lerman, the Brandeis Center was “frustrated” with the communication received from campus and the lengthy timeline for a campus response.
“I’m hoping that we can work things out with them and get the documents,” Lerman said.