Open Government

FOIA Processes Improved—Not Substance     President Bush has signed, without comment, the long-awaited bill aimed at improving processes for assuring compliance with the federal Freedom of Information Act.  But as was quickly noted, a provision authored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles)—that would have presumed access unless the government could show not only an applicable exemption but a good reason to apply it—was dropped before passage.

CFAC’s Chinese Trade Track    The California First Amendment Coalition is seeing to weaken or end China’s censorship of the Internet by asking the U.S. Government to complain about it as a violation of commercial fairness rules set by the World Trade Organization.   

Whistleblowing? ??

New Shield for Doctors    California hospitals’ medical staff are getting new protection from retaliation for filing formal complaints against health facilities about substandard treatment or conditions. Doctors and hospitals reportedly disagree about whether this change to the state’s health care whistleblower law will interfere with peer review.

Open Meetings

Settlement Called Unsettling    A Vista judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed challenging the Mira Costa Community College District’s $1.6 million departure “settlement” last summer with its former president, Victoria Muñoz Richart.  Plaintiff Leon Page, a local attorney who says he’s thinking of running for a seat on the district board, contends the agreement was excessive and needless, amounted to an illegal gift of public funds and also violated the Brown Act because the public was given no advance notice of its eyebrow-lifting terms. They provide—beyond a buyout for the 18 months remaining on her contract—$650,000 in unspecified damages; attorney fees; health benefits for Richart and her husband to age 65; and Medicare supplemental insurance for 10 more years to age 75 for both. A newspaper columnist calls Page the Hero of the Year as a gadfly, and notes the unusual “olive branch” he’s extending the ex-president as a real settlement of the settlement challenge.

Unscheduled Discussion        The seven-member Los Angeles Airport Commission is the subject of a district attorney’s investigation into whether it breached the Ralph M. Brown Act on December 17 by discussing a matter not on its meeting agenda: a Government Accountability Office report that cited a "high risk" of close calls between aircraft maneuvering on the ground at the nation’s airports, including LAX.

Open Courts

“It’s Our Policy”    Last year CalAware auditors found a variety of experiences at local police and sheriff’s departments suggesting that many (not all, but many) records clerks were either unfamiliar with the California Public Records Act as applicable to their agencies, or in a few cases were making it up as they went along.  Court clerks may be no better, if this anecdote is an example.

Free Press

Think Move On    After Apple Computer sued or subpoenaed several websites publishing rumors and facts about its new product plans in 2005, seeking to learn who in its ranks was leaking such jealously guarded information, the California Court of Appeal ruled that the website proprietors were protected as journalists under the state’s constitution from having to divulge their sources.  Apple has now settled with one of the sites, Think Secret, whose prompt anti-SLAPP motion against its trade secret infringement case kept the company from proceeding in court.  A key term of the settlement is that Think Secret will shut down.  But this is not a victory for Apple nor a defeat for a plucky little news site, says the latter’s lawyer.