CalAware Vice President Kelly Aviles is to be honored by Los Angeles journalists for her court challenges to government secrecy

The Los Angeles chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists today announced its list of print, broadcast and online journalists and supporters to be saluted at its March 1 awards banquet, and among them, cited for her Freedom of Information work, is attorney Kelly Aviles.

Ms. Aviles, in her capacity as Vice President for Open Government Compliance with Californians Aware, has an unparalleled record of success in defending journalists’ and others’ rights of access to government meetings and records.

As noted in her citation,

Ms. Aviles’ work has focused almost exclusively on legal issues related to media and government transparency since graduating from law school more than a decade ago. She provides legal guidance and litigation services to clients throughout the state, concentrating on access to courts, meetings and records.

Aviles has special expertise in the requirements of the California Public Records Act, the Ralph M. Brown Act and the Bagley-Keene Act and has successfully represented numerous private citizens, press organizations, government agencies and nonprofit groups in obtaining legal orders to make our government entities more accountable and accessible.

Her father, the late Rich McKee, was a long-time advocate for open government, who often sued in pro per for violations of the Brown Act and Public Records Act.

CalAware General Counsel Terry Francke said, “No one’s more deserving of this award than Kelly. She has represented us—and the public interest—on contingency ever since we began going to court, and has never lost a case. Among the government abuses she has brought to an end are the following:”

Withholding VIP Speaker’s Contract

CalAware in 2010 sued California State University Stanislaus violated its duties under the California Public Records Act and wrongfully withheld a speaking contract with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The court ordered the university to disclose the document.

Overcharges for Public Records Copies

CalAware in 2010 sued the Contra Costa County Community College District for violating the California Public Records Act in charging $40 per hour for staff time in compiling copies of public records; the District settled the suit by dropping the policy.

Posting Misleading Agenda

CalAware in 2012 sued the San Diego Board of Supervisors for taking action to adopt specific recommendations in a report that the agenda said should be simply received and evaluated with a report back by staff in 60 days, and for acting in accordance with a staff-prepared “cheat sheet” withheld from public dissemination. The board settled by rescinding the action taken.

Withholding Agenda Calendars

CalAware in 2014 sued the City of Salinas for withholding from the public, as a preliminary draft exempt from disclosure, a “calendar of upcoming events” to be placed on future city council meeting agendas, although the document was made available to council members. The city settled the suit by pledging to make future calendars available on request.

Backstage Serial Signatures

CalAware in 2015 sued the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors alleging it violated the Brown Act when its members privately and serially signed letters to the Legislature and the Governor opposing a bill intended to strengthen . . . the Brown Act. The Board settled the suit in August 2016 by pledging to announce any future full board signature correspondence on the open meeting agenda and authorize it by public vote.

Abuse of Closed Real Property Talks

CalAware in 2012 sued the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission and won a court decision that commissioners had violated Brown Act limits on the scope of real property closed sessions by secretly engaging in wide-ranging discussions of multiple aspects of a proposed lease to USC.

Abuse of Closed “Security” Talks

CalAware in 2012 sued the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors for holding an unlawful closed session to discuss with Governor Brown the financial burden on the County of his plan to shift state prisoners to local jails, forcing the Board to settle by pledging not to repeat the practice.

Abuse of Closed Litigation Talk

CalAware in 2014 sued the Board of Trustees of the Pasadena Area Community College for misrepresenting the facts justifying a closed session to consider litigation; the court ruled that this Brown Act violation voided a departing chancellor’s $400,000 severance payment.
Withholding Asset Forfeiture Records CalAware in 2016 sued the City of Baldwin Park for failing to retain records of its application to the U.S. Department of Justice for a share of funds or property confiscated from citizens using civil asset forfeiture; the City settled by pledging to do so in the future.

Abuses of Closed Litigation Talk

Ms. Aviles is currently representing CalAware and the Los Angeles Times in suing Metrolink, the Los Angeles area transportation agency, challenging the legality of an emergency teleconference meeting that Metrolink’s Board of Directors held in September 2015, where it discussed a single item of business in closed session.  The item it discussed was a design flaw that Metrolink had learned about during an investigation related to litigation filed against the agency after a February 2015 train crash.

Abuse of Closed Litigation Talk

Ms. Aviles is also representing the First Amendment Coalition and CalAware in challenging the Bakersfield City Council’s use of three closed sessions—labeled as concerning litigation—for a series of detailed briefings on the dire position of the city’s revenues and the approaches needed to persuade residents to approve new taxes at the ballot box.