If you have questions or complaints about government, your first step should be to contact the agency or officials most directly involved. Here is a general guide to help you direct your inquiries and complaints to the appropriate place.
Government Agencies / Officials
To contact a city agency, refer to City Government listings in your telephone book or check the city's website. If you have information that may indicate improper governmental activities in a city agency or by a city employee or public official, we suggest that you submit your complaint to the district attorney or grand jury in the county where the action has occurred. The state Attorney General is authorized to undertake the role of a prosecuting officer only in specific cases when the county district attorney is disqualified from the case or when they clearly, without justification, fail to act.
To contact a county agency, refer to County Government listings in your telephone book or check the county's website. If you have information that may indicate improper governmental activities in a city county agency or by a city county employee or public official, we suggest that you submit your complaint to the district attorney or grand jury in the county where the action has occurred. The state Attorney General is authorized to undertake the role of a prosecuting officer only in specific cases when the county district attorney is disqualified from the case or when they clearly, without justification, fail to act.
The Attorney General's Office is frequently unable to represent or assist individuals regarding non-criminal complaints against state agencies because this office is required by law to represent those agencies in disputes arising out of their actions. For assistance in resolving a problem with a state agency, we suggest that you contact the director of the state agency, your elected representatives in the California Legislature, or a private attorney. A complaint alleging criminal conduct by a state public official may be directed to the Attorney General's Criminal Law Division. The complaint must be in writing and must contain detailed information so that an informal decision can be made on what further action may be warranted.
Disputes with federal agencies fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government. For assistance, you can contact your elected member in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives. For allegations of fraud involving federal government programs, you may want to contact the U.S. General Accounting Office. For complaints to be acted on, allegations must be clear and specific.
Complaints against a judge or court commissioner should be directed to the Commission on Judicial Performance. The 11-member Commission on Judicial Performance may censure, remove, retire or admonish judges for willful misconduct in office, persistent failure or inability to perform the duties of office, habitual intemperance, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that may be detrimental to the judicial office itself, or a disability of a permanent character that seriously interferes with the performance of duties. (Cal. Const., art. VI, §§ 8, 18). Details for filing a complaint are available on the commission's website or contact:
Commission on Judicial Performance
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14400
San Francisco, California 94102-3660
It is the Department of Justice general policy that local governments will be primarily responsible for citizen complaints against law enforcement agencies or employees of law enforcement agencies, and that appropriate local resources (e.g. sheriff or police department, district attorney, and citizens review commission in the area of jurisdiction) be utilized for resolution of such complaints. The Attorney General will review citizen complaints against a law enforcement agency or its employees for possible investigation when substantive allegations of unlawful conduct are made and all appropriate local resources for redress have been exhausted. You should first direct your complaint to the local law enforcement agency. Every law enforcement agency in California is required to establish a procedure to investigate citizens' complaints (Penal Code Section 832.5). A written description of the procedure is available from all law enforcement agencies. If you are alleging that a law enforcement officer committed a crime and your complaint is not resolved by your complaint to the agency, you should next contact the county district attorney in the county where the law enforcement agency is located. Contact information for county district attorneys is available from the California District Attorney’s Association. If your complaint involves alleged criminal misconduct and the local agencies do not act upon it, you may write to the Attorney General's Office. Your correspondence must include specific information about misconduct that violates state law, the details of your efforts to resolve the complaint with the local authorities, copies of your complaint(s) to the local authorities and copies of their response(s). Correspondence that does not contain this information cannot be acted upon. Law Enforcement Complaint Form. [Spanish Form]
California Highway Patrol
If you have a complaint involving the California Highway Patrol, you should address the matter to the local CHP office. The California Highway Patrol provides instructions for filing complaints about CHP officers and employees.
California law gives discretionary authority to a locally elected prosecutor in filing criminal actions. In deciding whether to file charges, a district attorney must evaluate the likelihood that a jury, after weighing all the conflicting evidence, would find the defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." It may not be uncommon for members of the public to differ with the district attorney's determination, but the decision rests with the local prosecutor. The Attorney General's intervention is appropriate only where there is a demonstrated conflict of interest that would disqualify the district attorney from a particular case; or there is an obvious abuse of prosecutorial discretion. The fact that an incident has created strong feelings within the community or the prosecutor's decision may be controversial or unpopular does not provide a basis for intervention by the Attorney General.
Other Government Topics
California law outlines the public's right to government records, procedures for requesting access and the government agency's rights to withhold certain types of records. Disputes over public access to records may be taken to court under the California Public Records Act. The Attorney General issues a regular publication summarizing the California Public Records Act. You can find the publication and more information on the Attorney General's Open Government web page.
If you have concerns about possible violations of the state's open meeting laws, you should consult two helpful publications available on the Attorney General's Open Government web page. The "Handy Guide to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act" applies to state government agencies and "The Brown Act, Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies" applies to local governments. Open meeting laws typically are enforced by private lawsuit, although a particularly flagrant violation may be subject to misdemeanor action brought by the District Attorney or injunctive, mandatory or declaratory relief action brought by the Attorney General.
For a summary of California conflicts-of-interest laws and the remedies available, go to the Attorney General's Open Government web page. Complaints about conflicts of interest by state or local government officials in violation of the California Political Reform Act should be directed to the Fair Political Practices Commission. For criminal violations, local district attorneys and the Attorney General have concurrent jurisdiction. Ethics Training Courses