Thursday, August 17, 2017

Skulason v. California Bureau of Real Estate (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 16, 2017)

What Justice Humes says is absolutely right:

"Skulason’s point is well taken. There is no doubt that the Internet substantially increases the ease with which the public can access information that was previously available only “after a diligent search of courthouse files” or other locally kept records. The reality of our electronic age, for better or worse, is that all kinds of public information that was once hard to obtain has become increasingly accessible, including information contained in or related to documents filed in court cases. And there is no doubt that increased access to information about prior convictions brings with it additional, and potentially harmful, collateral consequences."

Reasonable minds might perhaps differ as to what comes after this (insightful) paragraph.  Since the Court of Appeal nonetheless comes out the other way:

"We are sympathetic to Skulason’s concerns, but her remedies lie with the Legislature or the Bureau, not with the courts through a writ of mandate. The Legislature can consider enacting a law to restrict the Bureau’s ability to post documents that refer to convictions that have been dismissed under sections 1203.4 or 1203.4a. And the Bureau, rather than posting such documents unredacted and unexplained, can consider different approaches that might preserve its legitimate interests and still reduce the negative collateral consequences of its current practice. Our role, however, is limited to deciding whether existing law requires the Bureau, as ordered by the trial court, to “remove any and all documents containing information about [Skulason’s] expunged and/or dismissed convictions from its public website and publicly searchable database.” We conclude that it does not, and the court therefore erred by granting the petition for a writ of mandate."

There's nonetheless no doubt that the Internet is a double-edged sword.

P.S. - The case is also a pretty good example of the Streisand effect.  Before the lawsuit, someone had to deliberately go on the Bureau of Real Estate's web page and look up Ms. Skulason's license to find out about her "expunged" convictions.  Now, by contrast, with the publication of the opinion, I would fully expect that every time someone googles the name "Belinda Skulason", one of the very first hits will be a discussion of Ms. Skulason's previous offenses.  Particularly since "Belinda Skulason" isn't an extraordinarily common name.  (As of today the district court docket sheet is Result No. 9, an amicus brief is No. 11, and the Court of Appeal's opinion is No. 16.  And I'm guessing those results will move up over time.)