Public Forum Law Week in Review: 10/7/08
Open Government

CalAware’s Candidate Sunshine Pledge
Californians Aware is encouraging candidates for election this November 4 to take its Sunshine Pledge as an affirmation of and commitment to open government.  “As a tax-exempt public charity and a nonpartisan advocate, CalAware cannot and does not support particular candidates,” said Executive Director Emily Francke. “But we do encourage any and all of them to include the Sunshine Pledge in their campaigns and to let us know if they have done so, and we encourage voters to resolve any electoral indecision they may have in favor of candidates who make this commitment to transparency.”

Gilroy Nears OK of Sunshine Ordinance
The Gilroy Dispatch reports that the Gilroy city council plans to vote on a slightly watered down version of Councilman Perry Woodward's signature sunshine ordinance in the near future, almost a year after he took office promising to make City Hall more transparent.

Governor Signs EMT Fitness Database Bill
The California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) reports that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation to create a standardized statewide emergency medical technician (EMT) database and make it easier for EMT employers to obtain information when they hire or conduct an investigation of an EMT. As a result of CNPA’s efforts, AB 2917 was amended several days before it passed the Legislature to make information in the system available to the public, including access to formal disciplinary actions.

AG Wants $8 Billion Prison Plan Revealed
Legal Newsline.com reports that California Attorney General Jerry Brown has filed a motion in federal court demanding public disclosure of Federal Receiver J. Clark Kelso's $8 billion plan for prison facility construction, a 917-page document containing information on the layout, design and amenities of seven prison health care facilities.  Brown contends that only 23 pages of the documents fall within the terms of the protective secrecy order granted by the court in earlier proceedings.

Free Speech

Beware What You Wear to the Polling Place
The Sacramento Bee reports that, as cautioned in an anonymous chain e-mail, in California at least, wearing political T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, hats or other election attire to a polling place is called "passive electioneering" and violates state law.

. . . Or As a Public School Classroom Teacher
The San Jose Mercury News reports that teachers at Soquel High School have agreed not to wear "Educators for Obama" buttons in the classroom after a parent complained that educators were attempting to politically influence his daughter and other students.

College’s Speech Permit Rule Prompts Suit
OneNewsNow.com reports that Yuba Community College District faces a federal lawsuit over restricting a student's proselytizing on campus. The suit alleges that when Ryan Dozier handed out tracts and talked about Christianity to fellow students one day after class, campus administrators and police officers stopped him for want of a permit.

Student’s Facial Striping Irks Administrators
The Desert Sun in Palm Springs reports that the question of whether face paint is a student's guaranteed right of expression in her yearbook photo or a distraction that school officials have the authority to stop arose at La Quinta High School after junior Alison Reinholtz painted two stripes under her eyes for her school yearbook picture.

Whistleblowers

Veto Shows Low Priority for Whistleblowers
The office of Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) reports that despite bipartisan support, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation to increase and better define the legal rights of state whistleblowers—public employees who report waste, fraud or abuse within state agencies. The Governor did not provide a policy reason for his veto, but instead gave the same message he has used for several of his vetoes—blaming it on the delay in adopting the state budget which forced him to approve only “bills that are the highest priority for California.”

Public Information

Governor Signs Bill Allowing Sealed Court Files
The California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) reports
that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation intended to
curb excessive litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA), in part by automatically sealing court records. CNPA
unsuccessfully opposed a late amendment to SB 1608 by Senator Ellen
Corbett (D-San Leandro) to require a court to order a defendant to file
under seal certain reports that assess a property’s compliance with
state and federal equal access laws.

SBA Appeals Order to Say Whom It Favored
The American Small Business League (ASBL) reports that the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) has decided to appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a district court order to release the names of all recipients of federal small business contracts during fiscal years (FY) 2005 and 2006.  The ASBL filed the Freedom of Information Act case after the SBA refused to comply with its request for the data, sought to prove that during the Bush Administration most small business contracts went to Fortune 500 firms.

Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .

  • that the administrative bureaucracy of the Los Angeles Unified School District ballooned by nearly 20 percent from 2001 to 2007, reports the Los Angeles Daily News, while over the same period 500 teaching positions were cut and enrollment dropped by 6 percent.
  • that Port of Oakland President Darlene Ayers-Johnson racked up more than $133,000 in travel expenses over the course of her eight years on the panel, reports KTVU-TV—more than six times more than her board colleague Patricia Scates, who spent approximately $22,000 over the same period.
  • that inattention, not cell phone use, is being blamed as the cause of a Sacramento light rail collision in July that killed a maintenance worker, reports the Sacramento Bee.  The official inquiry concludes that Troy Schafer was killed July 24 in North Sacramento because he stepped onto the tracks without looking as a train approached, and because the train operator was not looking at the track ahead.
  • that a total of eight police officers hired by the tiny (pop. 1135) City of Blue Lake in Humboldt County after David Ray Gundersen came on as acting police chief had their employment terminated within a year, reports the Eureka Times-Standard. Gundersen was fired in May, and then so was the city manager charged with supervising him.

Free Press

Appellate Court Reverses Judge’s Gag Order
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the Fourth District Court of Appeal has granted the Orange County Register’s request to vacate an order barring it from reporting on trial testimony in a $100 million wage-and-hour class action against the newspaper by its carriers. Californians Aware was among a large number of news and other organizations supporting the appellate challenge in a friend of the court brief.

Governor Signs Bill Protecting J-Advisors
The office of Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) reports that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger  has signed Senate Bill 1370, a bill to protect high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech, which most often happens when a journalism advisor or professor is disciplined for content in a student newspaper.

Pelosi Promises a Shield Law for Journalists
Portfolio.com reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in remarks to the American Magazine Conference in San Francisco Sunday, said the following about the stalled effort to pass a federal shield law to support journalists’ efforts to protect confidential sources: "It as so many other things died in the Senate. It did so because the administration didn't want it to go forward. . . Stay tuned. As soon as we have a new Congress and a new president, we will have a new shield law."

Open Meetings

Council’s Vote on Stadium Is Challenged
The Whittier Daily News reports that for the second time in two months, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office is probing the Walnut City Council for allegedly side-stepping the Brown Act. Two complaints to the DA—one from Richard McKee, former president of Californians Aware—point out that on September 24, the council voted to take four steps to oppose construction of an NFL stadium in the neighboring City of Industry, none of which was listed on the meeting agenda.

School Lawyer Has Mixed Brown Act Record
The Orange County Register reports that a school-law attorney who sat in on a private Capistrano Unified school board discussion in which open-meeting laws may have been violated has previously advised school boards to do in private what courts say they should do in public. Full disclosure: the attorney is also representing the Orange Unified School District in its so far successful defense against a Brown Act/First Amendment lawsuit by Californians Aware.

Complaint Includes New ‘Reform’ Trustees
The Orange County Register reports that the Capistrano Unified School District’s board has been accused of violating the state's open-meeting law again—the fifth time in less than a year. But unlike in the past, when the more-senior board members were blamed, the fault is now aimed at the newer "reform" trustees, the same ones credited with bringing past Brown Act lapses to light.