Monthly Archives: January 2012

Juvenile Court Opens Dependency Hearings to Media

Los Angeles Juvenile Court hearings dealing with dependent children, parental fitness and foster care are being opened to attendance by the press but not the public, unless good reason is shown why they should not be, reports Garrett Thierolf in the Los Angeles Times. The premise: a secret court system perpetuates problems in child protective services and leaves responsible adults largely unaccountable.

Court: No Brown Act Violation by Two-Hat Council

The California Court of Appeal has declined requests to publish its recent opinion concluding that the Brown Act was not violated by the Montebello City Council in denying public comment before holding a closed session with itself as the Montebello Redevelopment Agency board, since later, before holding a closed session in its role as that board, it did allow prior public comment. If you didn’t follow that, you can read the court’s opinion and see if it’s any clearer (or any weirder), and console yourself that it looks like city councils won’t be wearing these two hats much longer. In view of that fact, it’s hard to imagine that the California Supreme Court, which still has the power to order the opinion published, will do so. Kenneth Ofgang reported the details in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise.

High Court: Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve—But Not Here

You can wear the F-word on your back in your local courthouse’s corridors, the U.S. Supreme Court says, but in its own hushed lobby you can’t wear the words “Occupy Everywhere,” as a hapless visitor recently discovered.  Andrew F. Sellars reports for the Citizen Media Law Project.

"Bell" Tolls for Hard-to-Reach Meeting Agendas, Pay Talks

Thanks to the City of Bell kleptocracy scandal, local government bodies subject to the Brown Act must now post their agendas on the agency’s website, if there is one, unless they are advisory committees with no members who also sit on the governing body of the agency, and none of their members are compensated for attendance. The posting has the same advance timing as in the non-digital world: 72 hours out for regular meetings and 24 for special meetings. Also under AB 1344, effective January 1, special meetings may no longer be used for discussion or action on the compensation, including benefits, of the agency’s unrepresented (non-union) managerial talent, including both the chief executive and department heads.

CalAware Sues San Diego Supervisors for Surprise Actions

Californians Aware has filed suit against the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, challenging its decision at a meeting last month as a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law for local government.  The petition, filed today in San Diego County Superior Court, cites the Board’s immediate approval of a slate of recommendations from an advisory committee on cutting red tape in development approvals. The staff-written posted meeting agenda recommended only accepting the report and directing staff to give further study to unspecified proposals, but a staff list distributed to the Board but not the public at the meeting highlighted a number of proposals for immediate action—which the Board approved, to the surprise of both observers in the audience and others who did not attend the meeting, reading the agenda to mean no action would be taken.

Allowing Timely Press Access to Prisoners Gets 7th Try

A proposed restoration of news media interview access to California’s state prisoners—legislation repeatedly vetoed over more than a decade by three prior governors—has passed its first two committees in the state Assembly and awaits a vote next week on the Assembly floor. AB 1270 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was initially referred to the suspense file by the Assembly Appropriations Committee yesterday (Thursday, January 19) but later that day was approved by the committee on a straight 11-5 party line vote. The bill’s previous attempts were each passed by the Legislature but vetoed by three prior governors since the press was cut off from arranging timely interviews with inmates in the 1990s after the publication of various media stories exposing problems in prison. It would, as summarized by Legislative Counsel, “require the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, upon reasonable notice, to permit representatives of the news media to interview prisoners in person, as specified. The bill would forbid retaliation against an inmate for participating in a visit by, or communicating with, a representative of the news media.”

Legislative Whistleblower Bill Dies Voteless in Committee

A bill to create protections for whistleblowers who report improper governmental activities in the California Legislature died an unsurprising death in its second committee hearing in the Assembly, reports Terry Miller for the Pasadena Independent.  Its author, not entirely vindicated in a spat about the Assembly leadership’s claim that his office spending was out of control, has announced that he will not seek other elective office when his term ends this year.

CalAware Publishes The Definitive Guide to Public Records Rights and Requirements in California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE New guide provides comprehensive legal guidance for citizens, journalists and public officials for open records law in California CARMICHAEL — CalAware announces that Terry Francke, the leading authority on open government in California, has published the first comprehensive legal guide for citizens, journalists and public officials who need to know how to obtain public records, how to respond to access requests, and how to manage public records. The CalAware Guide to Public Records and Private Information in California is a milestone in advancing transparency and accountability in state and local government because it makes a vast amount of authoritative information on public access law readily accessible. It covers statutes, case law and administrative regulations that apply to the executive branch and local governments of the State of California, and to its judicial and legislative branches. Francke is an attorney with over three decades of experience explaining, litigating and drafting laws that grant the public access to information held by government bodies in California. He is the author of two other definitive books on open government, the first on the information gathering rights of journalists, and the second on the rights of the public to attend meetings of legislative bodies. In 1994 he helped draft major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act, and in 2004 was an expert contributor to the ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution. The guide analyzes each statutory provision as well as its interpretive case law and attorney general’s opinions, and includes the full text of each statute and court rule. Issues addressed in the Public Records Act and comparable provisions governing the Legislature and court system include the common […]

Amendments to Whistleblower Bill Cut Both Ways

A state Assembly member wants legislative staffers protected by the same laws that shield whistleblowers in the executive branch, and his recent amendments of his bill to that effect are being praised, because they confine the protection to non-elected Capitol staff—not lawmakers like him. Richard Renner reports for the National Whistleblowers Legal Defense & Education Fund, but doesn’t seem to grasp that the amendments cut both ways.

L.A. Sheriff's Patrols Trained to Eye Photography as Suspect

Patrol officers on the beat must make sensible judgment calls all the time and most do, but the handful who treat photographers as potential terrorists run up against the First Amendment, notes syndicated columnist George Will in the Washington Post, especially in an era where nearly everyone’s mobile phone is also a camera.