Meetings of local government bodies are kept open by the Brown Act. For state boards and commissions in the executive branch, it's the Bagley-Keene Act. The Legislature's open meeting obligation is in the state constitution. But for want of such an unambiguous mandate for transparency, California's judicial branch, providing the tribunals where all these other sunshine laws are enforced, is governed by a network of policy-making and advisory bodies most of whose meetings are held behind closed doors. The rationale seems to be, Cheryl Miller reports in The Recorder, that these meetings are presumed to be closed because no law presumes them to be public. But Californians Aware and others say that's got it backwards, given a constitutional amendment in 2004.
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About the Author: Terry Francke, General Counsel
Terry Francke has a 35-year history of helping journalists, citizens and public officials understand and use their First Amendment and open government rights. With CalAware, Francke has authored comprehensive and authoritative guidebooks to California law on access to government meetings and public records and the news gathering and publication rights of journalists. Focusing on these issues in public forum law, he supervises CalAware's legislative and litigation initiatives; conducts workshops on legal compliance; helps design public records audits; supports local sunshine ordinance drafting efforts; writes CalAware Today, a blog on current developments and proposals in the law and best practices; and answers countless queries by phone and e-mail from citizens, journalists, public officials and employees, and lawyers.
Francke previously served 14 years as executive director and general counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has served as an advisory panel member to the National Center on Courts and the Media; taught journalism law at the Department of Communication at Stanford University; and served as an expert contributor to the 1994 major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act and the 2004 ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution.
Francke is a 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. Prior to his legal career, Francke worked as a weekly newspaper editor and in military and local government public affairs positions.