Los Angeles County Record Request Requirements–Just Quirky? Or Unconstitutional?

I was alerted to this issue by a commenter on the Find-A-Grave California Discussion Forum.

If you go in person to the main office of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder in Norwalk, California, and ask to view their birth, death, or marriage records, you will be required to sign a form similar to the one below (the example is for birth records, but the ones for death and marriage records contain the exact same provisions)

Los Angeles County Application to Examine Records

Los Angeles County Application to Examine Records

(click image to enlarge)

Frankly, I don’t understand most of what’s here in the section after “Please read and sign the following”.

The first item is somewhat clear, but I wonder why L.A. County wants researchers to sign it?  What effect, other than a potentially chilling one, would this have on a researcher’s ability to characterize, analyze, or describe data contained in the records?

The second item is extremely confusing.  What is meant by “any technical descriptions of the birth or death record indices”?  What are the descriptions provided by the State Department of Health Services and how would a researcher know if they are “consistent” with whatever?

I might understand that item #3 is designed to discourage commercial use of the information (a common, but  dubious governmental objective).  What, however, is meant by the phrase “otherwise transfer”?  Does that mean if I have received certain information from L.A. County’s records, I can’t tell you what it is?

Item #4 is the only one that makes any sense.

The most objectionable requirement is the fifth one, that the researcher “not post information from the [records] on the Internet.”  There is no statutory basis for this requirement that I could find in California law. Furthermore, even if
there is a statute permitting the county to impose this requirement, it’s likely unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and free press.  It serves no compelling governmental interest sufficient to overcome an individual’s constitutional rights.  And how would the county enforce it?  Could they get an injunction blocking proposed publication on the Internet? Or a court order requiring a researcher to remove the information from the Internet?  Not likely.

Note that a researcher could broadcast the information on television or radio, or post it on a billboard in downtown Los Angeles, or publish it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, or even email it to a million people.  You just  can’t post it on the Internet!

What makes this form all the more amazing is that persons ordering records by mail are not required to sign any such similar form!  At this link is the document needed to order records by mail from Los Angeles County.

To use the words we lawyers love to use, the Los Angeles County form contains provisions which are vague and overbroad, arbitrary and capricious, and an unlawful infringement on the right to free expression under the U.S. and
California Constitutions.  I would not sign such a form.

For this bit of foolishness, Los Angeles County and its Registrar-Recorder, Dean C. Logan, have earned a place in the Public Records Hall of Shame.  Let’s hope they redeem themselves soon!


8 Responses to “Los Angeles County Record Request Requirements–Just Quirky? Or Unconstitutional?”

  • […] GeneaBlogie » Blog Archive » Los Angeles County Record Request … […]

  • Denise Olson says:

    Just another example of gov’t bureaucracy in action. . . and probably explains why you hear of more and more people “going postal”.

    Great article!

  • Sharon says:

    By chance was this form created on April 1st? Either that or somebody in LA County has far too much time on their hands. I don’t understand how signing their form would inhibit someone from using the information for a fraudulent purpose if that was their intention. On the other hand, if someone used the information for a fraudulent purpose anyway, what difference does it make whether they signed some form or not. Is that an extra legal charge? If so, it sounds like charging someone with first degree murder AND jaywalking. I find #5 particularly perplexing in view of the fact that the California Birth Index is already on the Internet!

  • What’s interesting to me is how totally arbitrary the rules are between states. For instance, I can view and download actual death records from Ohio for free – any that I want. In Colorado I have to show that I am a relative that has a “right” to the record, show identification and pay a hefty fee. I don’t even mind paying – but I have to provide so much information to pry a record that is over 100 years old out of their hands!

  • T.K. says:

    As always, Craig, it’s a pleasure to have the benefit of your perspective on stuff like this. Personally, I don’t think I’d let this form stand between me and a record I wanted to view. I’d probably sign it and get on with what I came for. If they hauled me into court later, I’d hire you to defend me!
    (Easy for me to say… I don’t expect I’ll ever be researching in L.A.!)

  • […] Craig placed an observative post today on GeneaBlogie » Blog Archive » Los Angeles County Record Request …Here’s a quick excerptNote that a researcher could broadcast the information on television or radio, or post it on a billboard in downtown Los Angeles, or publish it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, or even email it to a million people. … […]

  • Jennifer says:

    Wow! That is the craziest form I have ever seen! You are right about not having to sign that when you order by mail. I have ordered by mail several times in the past from the Los Angeles County Recorder and have never had to sign this. I have always gotten my records with no issues. Very bizarre!

  • Cindy says:

    This is a fantastic & very interesting post! I really love the “Stupidity” label you’ve attached! Who in their right mind would ever sign such a form? Knowing that we genealogists, ever eager to get our hands on the records, I would venture to guess that many have signed it. I would also guess that gleanings from their research has been posted on the internet. Is this an attempt to not have an eager researcher regularly loading listings of information to the web? If it’s public information and you’re transcribing it, could they actually stop you from doing that?
    Regarding item #3 – if you’re a paid genealogist, doing research for a client, would you not transfer that information? Shouldn’t they assume that some are there for that very reason?
    Ah those controlling government types really had a ball with this form didn’t they?!
    Thanks for sharing!

May 2009
« Apr   Jun »