How to Become a California Municipal Lawyer

How does one become a municipal attorney in California?  There are a variety of paths to doing so.  Municipal Law has its niches, but it also has one of the broadest practices possible.  As the City Attorney of a City, you are expected to be a generalist.  You have to know a little of everything.  As a subordinate to the City Attorney, you can also be a generalist, but typically, you focus on one or a few areas of the law.
Municipal lawyers can be employed in-house in a City Attorney’s Office, or work for a municipal law firm or be a sole practitioner.
You do not necessarily have to work for a City Attorney’s Office or a municipal law firm as a law student.  However, from personal experience, it helps you see what a City does on a day-to-day basis.  I worked as a clerk in the City of Santa Clara’s City Attorney’s Office in the summer after my first year at Santa Clara University School of Law.  I filed papers in Santa Clara Superior Court and did other office tasks.  At the City Attorney’s Office in Redlands, I supervised a few interns from La Verne.  I helped supervise an intern as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino.  She was a certified law student and she tried one of my infraction cases as a 3rd year law student.  I would recommend that program to anyone interested in trial work.
That program is formally called the Practical Training of Law Students.  I did not do it when I was a law student as I was preparing to become a transactional intellectual property attorney.  Instead, I interned at an educational software company in the Silicon Valley.  That served me well with both my current small business clients and with my municipal law clients.   Cities have large appetites for contracts.  Certain clauses work for any client: attorneys’ fees clauses, choice of law and venue, indemnification clauses, insurance requirements and other similar clauses.  A city in California is a municipal corporation.  It has many of the same needs as any large business.
Is there a particular course of study required to become a municipal lawyer?  Not that I have ever seen.  I know of no municipal law certificate or other such program, and a very cursory search found no such certificate in California.  However, the traditional first year courses are very helpful year after year: Real Property, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Torts, and Legal Research and Writing.    Constitutional Law is very useful.
You never know what kind of law you might be doing for a City, particularly if you are a Deputy City Attorney for a medium or large city.  As a Deputy City Attorney and an Assistant City Attorney, I dealt with the following diverse set of circumstances: set and try a Vickers hearing; fight a pro se attorney in Federal court spouting constitutionalist nonsense; attempt to get a deputy public defender disqualified because their spouse once prosecuted their client; get a Superior Court clerk to file an answer and a demurrer at the same time (the Code of Civil Procedure allows it, but it is not seen in nature often), convince a municipal client to get a blanket performance license; write a state assembly bill that united both the disabled and slumlords in opposition; attempt to get a restraining order against a man threatening a code enforcement officer; obtain orders to destroy firearms, defend Pitchess Motions, write agreements to transfer property purchased with Federal funds to a non-profit, help lobbyists organize public meetings in Washington D.C., brief the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, create a process to protest County tax sales, and more than I can possibly remember.  That’s not even the bread-and-butter of municipal law.
The bread-and-butter is advising commissions, boards, and the council, municipal code prosecutions, defending cities in civil cases, advising departments and staff.  Some of it can be exciting; some is very, very dry.  As I said, some people specialize, especially in very large offices or firms.  You can be municipal bond counsel, a public works attorney, a redevelopment attorney, land use attorney, or a city prosecutor.
So how do you become a California Municipal Lawyer?  Some start out of law school, some come in after long careers elsewhere.  A good municipal attorney is a good attorney.  A good attorney can pick up the specifics on the job.  There are many paths, but to me, public law gives an attorney so many options.  If you are interested in municipal law, feel free to contact me.
The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
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T: (909) 708-6055

California Public Records Act, How and Where to Make a Request in San Bernardino County and Riverside County

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The California Public Records Act is an invaluable tool for individuals, traditional and new media,  public interest groups, non-profits, business entities, and even lawyers and political groups to find out what local government is doing.  This first post has to do with a very brief overview of the Act, and how to make a Public Records Act request.  Private Attorneys especially do not use the Act efficiently, much to the delight of City Attorneys and much to the detriment of their clients.

I have handled Public Records Act Requests on behalf of local agencies, and I have made Public Records Act Requests to local agencies, so I have a good perspective about how the Act is handled on both sides of the counter.  Having an attorney knowledgeable about the California Public Records Act is important if a client is involved in a case against a City, County, or other local government agency.

The Public Records Act is found in the California Government Code.  A Requester can find the California Government Code here.  The version found here is unannotated.  If a Requester wants to see an annotated code, it can be found at most public libraries and law libraries.  The annotated version gives case law and secondary source references.  The Act is codified at Government Code, Title 1 “General”, Division 7 “Miscellaneous,” Chapter 3.5 “Inspection of Public Records”, Article 1, “General Provisions” and Article 2 “Other Exemptions From Disclosure.”   If a Requester is searching manually, the Act is found in Government Code section 6250 et seq.  [“Et seq.” is legal jargon from the Latin “et sequentia” meaning “and following.”  It is shorthand to tell a court, or others, the general location of an some amount of primary or secondary law.]

The California Legislature, in enacting the Act, found and declared  “that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in” California.  Government Code section 6250.

While, there are generally two rights, to inspect and/or copy public records, this post will focus on how to make the request.

How and When to make a request to a local government agency in San Bernardino County and Riverside County:

The Act requires that records not subject to an exemption are to be made available “upon a request”  Government Code section 6253(b).  The Court of Appeal for the Second District of California found that the “California Public Records Act plainly does not require a written request.”  Los Angeles Times v. Alameda Corridor Transp. Authority (2001) 88 Cal.App. 4th 1381, 1392.

What does this mean, practically?  A Requester can ask the local government agency in person, or over the phone, to inspect or copy records.  However, the practical thing to do is to put it in writing so that there is a record of the request.  Local governments are collections of individuals, and if the individual employed by the government does not understand the request, or does not write the request down correctly, a Requester may not get to inspect the records in a timely fashion.  A Requester’s best practice is to put the Public Record Act request in writing and date it.  A Requester does not have to use a form provided by the local government agency, but sometimes it is easier to use their form.

Where and to whom should the Request be made?  Though the Act does not specify, local government agencies in Riverside and San Bernardino County usually have Departments that are responsible for responding to routine requests, such as for copies of ordinances or minutes.   In an incorporated city or town, the Requester can usually request the documents from the City Clerk, and it should be routed within the City to the right department if it is not the City Clerk .  In cities with in-house City Attorney’s Offices, such as the City of San Bernardino and the City of Riverside, a Requester can request the documents from the City Attorney.  Likewise, it will be routed to the correct department.

However, the best practice is to request from the specific department that has the records.  If the Requester is ling with a specific department, such as Planning or Code Enforcement, the Requester can make the request directly to the department who is likely to handle the request.  If the Requester is asking for records from different departments, the Requester might want to make the request to the City Manager or City Administrator.  A Requester should feel free to ask someone in the particular city, town or county.  Most local government entities understand their responsibilities under the Act, and want to help the public.  Some do not.

A later discussion with examine how to make a reasonably described record request.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

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Redlands, CA 92373-5235
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