CARMICHAEL — Californians Aware (CalAware), a nonprofit organization co-founded by Richard McKee to improve transparency in government and defend free speech rights, has created a fund in his name to enable it to continue his work of enforcing such rights by going to court if necessary.

“Rich McKee was a tireless champion for open government and the right of the public to participate in the government they created,” said CalAware President Dennis Winston, a Los Angeles attorney who successfully represented McKee in several actions adding important precedents to the laws of open meetings and public records. “The Rich McKee Memorial Fund will enable CalAware to carry on Rich’s commitment for the benefit of every citizen of California.”

Emily Francke, CalAware’s executive director and one of its co-founders with McKee, who worked closely with him to plan and execute several large-scale statewide audits of public records practices, said on a special web page describing the fund that donations will be used for filing fees and other out-of-pocket expenses. The fund is not intended to pay attorney fees, since lawyers for CalAware look to recover their fees from public agencies that are found by a court to be violating the law.

“It was Rich’s vision that once this program is sufficiently funded, it will be self-sustaining for years to come,” she said.

McKee died of natural causes at his home in La Verne on April 23.  The experience for which he first became known statewide—being ordered by a court to pay a school district more than $80,000 in attorney fees for unsuccessfully suing it on open meetings, public records and free speech grounds—led to a change in the law protecting the public from the threat of such crippling outcomes in similar lawsuits.

The fund’s web page links to a list of McKee’s 23 open government cases since 1994—most successful, most brought in his own name with his own resources—that constitutes “a record of individual civic activism that has nothing approaching a parallel in California history,” said Terry Francke, co-founder of CalAware and its general counsel.

“That Rich was able to have this impact and maintain a sunny and generous disposition despite his stubborn insistence on keeping the public aware of public matters makes him a kind of citizen saint that, sad to say, only his untimely death has led us fully to appreciate.  We must not disappoint his spirit.”