PUBLIC FORUM LAW -- In a very encouraging hour or so for public forum law, bills with new protections for aggrieved government whistleblowers, open government law enforcement, and speech and press freedoms won approval today in the Assembly Judiciary Committee; three of the four are headed for their final stop on the Assembly floor before going to the Governor.
All are Senate bills already passed in that house. Three of the four are authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), whose office reports their progress as follows:
In response to the Court’s decision in Miklosy v. the Regents of the University of California (S139133, July 31, 2008), the Assembly Judiciary Committee today approved (8-2) legislation to provide UC employees with the same whistleblower protections and legal standing as all other state employees.
On a 7-2 vote, the Assembly Judiciary Committee also approved Yee’s SB 220 to expand the protections for state employees who report waste, fraud, and abuse. That bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Yee's office also reports passage of a bill whose need was highlighted by CalAware's troubling experience in a lawsuit to enforce open government laws:
On a 9-1 vote, the Assembly Judiciary Committee today approved legislation to prohibit public entities from recovering attorney’s fees from individuals who sue to enforce the State’s open government laws, specifically the California Public Records Act, Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, and the Ralph M. Brown Act.
“SB 786 corrects an abuse of the anti-SLAPP law by government bodies,” said Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), the bill’s author. “The anti-SLAPP law was designed to protect freedom of speech and petition; not to chill an individual’s right to participation and ability to access public documents. SB 786 will not only protect the right of individuals to enforce open government laws without fear of a significant financial burden, but will also ensure that government entities act with greater transparency.”
In 1992, the California Legislature enacted the original anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law for individuals to obtain an early judicial ruling and termination of a SLAPP suit arising out of one’s exercising of speech and petition rights in connection with a public issue. Prior to the law, big corporations and developers – in attempt to silence an individual who was exercising their free speech or petition rights – would often masquerade false defamation cases as ordinary lawsuits. Such cases resulted in severe economic hardships against innocent individuals.
“In 2007, we filed an action for declaratory relief—not damages—against a school district, alleging violations of the Brown Act, the CPRA and the First Amendment,” wrote CalAware Executive Director Terry Francke, in a letter supporting the bill. “We challenged the board of trustee majority’s censure of one of its members for his open session criticism of board action and staff performance, and the superintendent’s editing of those remarks out of the video recording distributed for cable TV replay. Our belief at the time was (and still is) that the public has a right to hear even the harshest criticism by an elected member of a government body as to how the body has dealt with any issue—even a personnel matter—on which it has acted.”
The trial court dismissed CalAware’s action upon the district’s anti-SLAPP motion (Californians Aware et al. v. Orange Unified School District, No. G038499). As a consequence, the nonprofit organization was held liable to pay the district attorney’s fees and costs for trial totaling more than $80,000.
The committee also approved SB 320 by Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), which would, as summarized in the committee analysis,
permit a court in California to not recognize (and enforce) a judgment for (libel or slander)
obtained in a foreign jurisdiction that does not provide at least as much protection for
freedom of speech and the press as that provided under the United States and California
Constitutions. This bill seeks to address the problem of "Libel Tourism," which is the
increasingly popular practice of suing U.S. journalists and authors in libel-friendly foreign
courts (often in Great Britain) and then attempting to enforce the judgment in a
California court. Because existing state law, the Uniform Foreign-Country Money
Judgments Recognition Act, requires the recognition of foreign money judgments in the
U.S., except as specified, and because there are stark differences in libel law and free
speech protection between the U.S. and other countries, there is an incentive for libel
plaintiffs to engage in forum-shopping in order to silence speech they find objectionable.
Past examples of this phenomenon, with their chilling effect on free speech and which
have been well documented, have spurred lawmakers in the U.S. to propose legislation
similar to and including this bill, with the goal of protecting free speech from the effects of
Coincidentally, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press notes that the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week passed a bill addressing the same problem.
The bill that passed, H.R. 2765, put forth by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), would prevent American courts from recognizing foreign libel judgments that are deemed "repugnant" to the First Amendment. It does not go as far as two other libel tourism bills under consideration in Congress, both of which would allow libel defendants to counter-sue the plaintiffs who bring such claims against them in foreign courts.
Cohen’s bill passed the full House last September, but that was as far as it got before the congressional session ended.
All three of the libel tourism bills were introduced after New York author Rachel Ehrenfeld was ordered by a British court to pay 30,000 British pounds in a libel lawsuit brought by billionaire Saudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz.
Sunshine Week (March 15-21) is a national celebration of open government, but here in California a court decision has favored the suppression of dissent and cost a long-time open government advocate $80,000.
More than four years ago the people of California went to the polls and, by an overwhelming 83 percent support for Proposition 59, passed a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing the public fundamental access to the meetings and records of their local and state government agencies.
This month, however, despite those constitutional protections, California courts finalized an order that a small public interest non-profit group and its past president must pay nearly $86,000 for merely asking them to protect the public’s right to hear the opinions expressed by its local elected representatives.
The problem began when a majority of the Orange Unified School District (OUSD) Board didn’t like one of its members’ criticism of its decision supporting the superintendent’s transfer of a high school principal to a nonexistent position, “principal on special assignment,” at a continuation school. The dissident member said the board should have fired the principal after the many complaints received from parents about his performance—instead of transferring him to a school already having achievement problems.
The superintendent edited the dissenter’s comments out of the DVD the district distributes to local cable TV stations for airing. Then, in violation of its own bylaws, the board censured the member for his negative comments, warning him not to repeat the offense. The Board majority saw its chance to issue a public rebuke to a dissident thorn in their side, who favored the use of long diatribes during meetings to pronounce the Board majority and school administration corrupt.
Richard McKee, then president of Californians Aware (CalAware), had earlier warned the board that such an action violated the Brown Act’s prohibition against discouraging the expression of one or more of its members. After the censure action, McKee and CalAware petitioned the court for an order overturning the censure and for a declaration that the editing of the recording of the meeting was unlawful. It sought no money damages or other remedies, and was filed by a trial lawyer on the CalAware board who took the case pro bono publico—waiving any fees if the action was unsuccessful.
Orange Unified filed an anti-SLAPP motion, claiming that McKee and CalAware were trying to stifle the district’s right to free speech. Such a motion asks dismissal of any lawsuit that attempts to chill the valid exercise of free speech in matters of public interest. If the court grants the motion, not only is the case against the speaker tossed out of court, but the plaintiff seeking to stop the speech must pay the speaker’s attorney fees.
The trial judge liked—and promptly granted—the district’s anti-SLAPP motion, saying the OUSD Board was right to censure the minority member’s criticism, calling it “boorish,” and concluded that the alteration of the meeting tape to remove the critical comments was protected, because it represented the right of the district to control its own speech.
Confident that the ruling would be overturned under Proposition 59, the Brown Act and the First Amendment, McKee and CalAware appealed, pleading that the public had a right to hear all the comments made by its elected representatives at an open meeting. But the Fourth Appellate District sitting in Santa Ana agreed with the trial court that the district’s speech rights trumped the dissident trustee’s, ruling that McKee and CalAware were responsible for OUSD’s attorney fees. Then, after the California Supreme Court denied review, reality set in.
Despite the fact that the Brown Act itself protects plaintiffs suing to enforce open government from such a fee order unless the action is judged “clearly frivolous and totally lacking in merit” (a finding not made by either of these courts), McKee and CalAware are on the hook.
But CalAware is a five-year-old nonprofit with very limited assets. It has already contributed all the cash it could raise, $6,000. Thus McKee, whose wages have already been garnished by OUSD, and who has had a lien placed upon his home by the district, is left to scramble to come up with the remaining $80,000. He’s already paid $59,000 of it through a second trust deed on his home, depleted his savings, and is now taking another $16,000 from a tax shelter annuity. How he will come up with the remainder is uncertain.
None of this was supposed to happen. The California Constitution requires that any law, like the Brown Act, which furthers the people’s right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, “shall be broadly construed if it furthers the people's right of access, and narrowly construed if it limits the right of access.”
In this case the courts gutted the Brown Act of the protections that were there to secure the people’s right to hear the concerns expressed by their local elected representatives, as well as their statements of support.
Here, despite the California Constitution and the Brown Act, the courts have granted public agencies the right to punish expressions of concern made by their own officers to the public they serve, and to censor any information from its publications that the agency doesn’t want the people to see or hear. These are rights usually associated with an authoritarian regime, not a democratic republic.
So now it’s back to the drawing board, trying to formulate a legislative remedy for the loss of a fundamental right voided by the courts.
Meanwhile McKee, a chemistry professor of 34 years who, as a non-lawyer, has successfully prosecuted 14 other Brown Act and Public Records Act cases to protect the public’s right to open government, is wondering what happened to his retirement savings—and not just because of the economy.
To help Rich McKee stop the hemorrhage of his life savings to answer this liability and to help CalAware build its resources to fight for open government in the future, send a tax-deductible charitable gift check marked “Legal Defense Fund” to Californians Aware, 2218 Homewood Way, Carmichael, CA 95608, or contact General Counsel Terry Francke by e-mail or phone — (916) 487-7000.
Supreme Court Denies CalAware’s Review Plea
As reported in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, the California Supreme Court has declined to review a ruling that barred a school board member from suing his district, which he and Californians Aware claimed had violated his civil rights by censuring him and editing his comments out of a tape it prepared for cable television. The trial court and Fourth District Court of Appeal decided that the lawsuit, brought under the Brown Act and the First Amendment, was an unmeritorious SLAPP at the trustees’ right to express their opinion through a censure motion.
Judge to College: Spare Student While He Sues
California Catholic Daily reports that a federal judge has ordered Yuba Community College District officials to temporarily suspend punishment of a student pending a lawsuit brought on his behalf by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys. College officials had threatened the student with arrest or expulsion for sharing his faith on campus in violation of a college ban on student speech without a permit outside of the school’s “free speech” limits of one hour per day, two days per week.
Savage Sued for Suing Group Who Exposed Him
KRON.com reports that talk show host Michael Savage has been sued in federal court in San Francisco by a liberal film group for making an allegedly baseless demand that YouTube Inc. take down one of its videos. The video by Brave New Films was entitled "Savage Hates Muslims."
MySpace Hoax Prompts L.A. Trial, Bill in Congress
The First Amendment Center reports that as federal prosecutors in Los Angeles began last week to try a Missouri woman on charges of online fraud in connection with the suicide of a MySpace-taunted teenager, a California Congresswoman’s bill introduced last May to more directly confront “cyberbullying” remains in a subcommittee.
College Gay Clubs Can’t Use Preferred Acronym
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that members of the Fellowship of Associated Gay Students & Straight Allies at two San Diego community colleges say campus administrators have violated their free speech rights by repeatedly blocking attempts to advertise their shared acronym: FAGS.
Watchdog to Congress: Demand Facts on Bailout
The Project on Government Oversight reports it has sent a letter to key oversight committees in the House and Senate protesting “the nearly stunning lack of openness and transparency in the actions taken thus far pursuant to the bailout, or the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).” The letter says in part, “Irrespective of whether the decisions are made by political appointees, career employees, or Members of Congress, the decision-making process has been a nearly perfect black box.” Meanwhile OpenGovernment.Org offers an update and resource page.
Open Government Ideas Pouring into Transition
Stephen Aftergood at the Project on Government Secrecy reports, “Expectations of significant changes in government information policy continue to grow as more and more groups and individuals offer their recommendations for reform to the next administration and its transition team. Proposals for change concerning classification, freedom of information, and presidential records were developed by a cross-section of interested organizations convened by the National Security Archive . . . A catalog of proposals affecting a broad range of national security and civil liberties issues, including secrecy, was compiled by the Constitution Project.” Another list of proposals, by specific organizations, is here.
Query: Will Obama Keep His Sunshine Promises?
A journalist for Pro Publica notes that after almost eight years under one of the most secretive administrations in history, open records advocates are hopeful that President-elect Barack Obama will keep his promise to run a transparent presidency. But his record on the issue is not spotless, she says.
An Open Inquiry into the Last Eight Secret Years?
An independent investigating task force like (but equipped with better chances for success than) the 9/11 Commission is needed “to find out what we still don’t know,” says an article in Washington Monthly, “Last Secrets of the Bush Administration.”
Don’t Remove Classified Records, Officials Told
Stephen Aftergood at the Project on Government Secrecy reports that federal officials were reminded recently that as they depart from government service with the end of the current Administration, they are not permitted to take classified information with them. The warning came from William J. Bosanko, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the national security classification system. “Document removal is among the most pernicious forms of secrecy,” notes Aftergood, “as it is often undetected and irreversible.”
Gilroy Council Adopts Sunshine Ordinance 7-0
The Gilroy Dispatch reports that the city council has unanimously passed Gilroy's first open government law, putting behind it a year of debate and review that included emotional and personal accusations. The sunshine ordinance will go into effect Dec. 17, and the council will meet to appoint three members to the Open Government Commission at its next regular meeting, Dec. 15.
Editorial: San Jose Officials Resist Sunshine Law
In an editorial, the San Jose Mercury News says that while San Jose city government has become more open under Mayor Chuck Reed, when it comes to records that would reveal how decisions have been or are being made, the city administration strongly resists a proposed sunshine ordinance’s new rules that go beyond what's required in the California Public Records Act.
Berkeleyans Ready Sunshine Draft for Council
The Berkeley Daily Planet reports that the citizens’ group working on its alternative to the Berkeley city attorney’s draft sunshine ordinance has released its final draft and would meet with Councilmember Kriss Worthington to discuss a plan to introduce it in the City Council agenda for December.
Editorial: Bug Board’s Leak Probe Wasted Funds
The Desert Sun in Palm Springs says in an editorial that the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District spent at least $2,500 trying in vain to discover who leaked an unedited report to the paper. The leaked complete report revealed the former general manager’s claims that the former longtime district lawyer sexually harassed him and detailed specifics of their alleged relationship.
Court: $244K+ Attorney Fee Award Not Excessive
A trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding successful California Public Records Act plaintiffs nearly a quarter million dollars in attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by the defendant county, ruled the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District in Bernardi v. County of Monterey, filed September 30. The trial court awarded the plaintiffs the sum of $244,287.50 in fees and costs in a case involving records bearing on the county’s controversial approval of a 109-home development project near the mouth of Carmel Valley with notable water and traffic impacts.
Court: Requester’s Ouster Violated Records Act
A public utility district unlawfully denied a resident access to public records, entitling her to an award of attorney fees and costs when she had to sue for them, because it ejected her from its office when she went there to demand access. So ruled the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth District ruled in Galbiso v. Orosi Public Utility District, filed October 23. The district unsuccessfully argued that she should be entitled to fees and costs only if she showed she had been wrongfully denied access to one or more specific records.
Experts Debate Privacy in Political Contributions
Ben Smith, writing in Politico.com, reports that the resignation of a musical theater director in Sacramento who gave $1,000 to support the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 has fueled a fascinating discussion among election law experts, some of whom are seizing on it to make the little-heard case against the public disclosure of campaign contributions.
Attorney: City Must Disclose Rally Cop Strength
The Hollister Free Lance reports that although the city attorney and police chief have contended that disclosing the number of law enforcement personnel employed at the annual biker rally could endanger the community's safety, an open records expert says there's no legal authority supporting that stance.
Former Cop, City Trade Lawsuits—over Settlement
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that former Monrovia police Officer Glenn Cobb settled a racial discrimination lawsuit with the city of Monrovia last year for $125,000. Now he is suing the city again for breach of contract, claiming officials violated a confidentiality agreement when they disclosed the financial terms to the Tribune. The city has filed a countersuit, alleging that Cobb's lawyer, Leo Terrell, caused Monrovia to be "humiliated and ridiculed" when he breached the agreement by speaking about the settlement to a reporter last year.
Rare Judge’s Brief Faulting Prosecutors Unsealed
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a previously sealed court filing from a federal judge in San Diego, unsealed at the newspaper’s request, criticized prosecutors for inaccurately describing the details surrounding the secret guilty plea of a money launderer in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal. In a highly unusual move, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns sent a 15-page brief of his own to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, alleging that the government’s petition, on national security grounds, for an order to block him from unsealing previous records in the bribery prosecution “mischaracterizes substantial, relevant portions” of the case.
Federal Judges Routinely Allowing Sealed Files
The Recorder in San Francisco reports that a recent inadvertent disclosure of information from a sealed file in an industrial espionage case shows that while the First Amendment may presume public access to court files and disfavor sealing, in practice federal judges let the parties decide what information should be sealed unless the news media or some other third party notices and comes into court to protest.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
• that cat owners, including two members of the city council, have overwhelmingly ignored a year-old Stockton ordinance requiring the licensing of cats, according to the Stockton Record.
• that the San Joaquin County Library last year admitted to having 32,185 borrowers owing a total of $626,196, according to the Stockton Record, although an audit just released found the sum to be $3.4 million.
• that a San Francisco police officer drove Mayor Gavin Newsom's new $58,000 hybrid SUV with its police lights, radios, and satellite TV, all the way to Montana and back for Newsom’s wedding this summer at a total estimated cost of $15,000, while the mayor flew to the site in a private jet, according to KGO-TV.
Editorial: Fire School Cop Who Bullied Journalist
The Oakland Tribune has editorially called on the Oakland School District to fire the chief of its small police force for his abusive behavior caught on tape as he inappropriately detained a Tribune videographer covering a student protest against immigration raids. “We shudder to think,” the paper says, “how (the chief) would have reacted if the encounter had involved a student who lacked the ability or resources to question what was happening, and we wonder how much further he would have gone if the video camera wasn't running.”
Reporter Says Interview with Priest Got Rough
The Vacaville Reporter reports that a Fairfield priest verbally and physically attacked one of its reporters during an interview at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, according to a police report. The reporter says he went to the church to talk to the priest about a parishioner who claimed the priest expelled her from Sunday Mass because her vehicle sported painted signs in support of president-elect Barack Obama.
Malibu Mayor’s Ideas on Paparazzi Swarms
Writing in the Malibu Times, Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich suggests several responses to the most annoying or menacing behavior of celebrity photographers such as sparked a notorious confrontation with surfers last summer. Instead of a new ordinance that might bite true photojournalists as well, she proposes enforcing existing laws, creating some kind of “safety zones” at schools for certain hours (see story below), licensing and taxing as appropriate to commercial photography, using a new cheat sheet on potential criminal complaints, and collecting and posting video clips of paparascality.
L.A. Councilman Wants No-Lens Zone Rules
The Los Angeles Times reports that under a proposal introduced by a Los Angeles city councilman this week, celebrities could drop their children off at school and visit their doctors without fear of being accosted by paparazzi. The ordinance suggested by Councilman Dennis Zine to combat aggressive tabloid photographers would restrict commercial photography and video recordings within 20 feet of the entrances at schools, hospitals and medical facilities.
School Sued for Dropping Journalism Program
The Student Press Law Center reports that lawyers representing it and the American Civil Liberties Union are filing a lawsuit on behalf of students and a teacher at Fallbrook High School, claiming that the school violated their First Amendment rights by canceling the journalism class and removing the adviser. Four students and the adviser, David Evans, say the school's principal, Rod King, censored two articles in the Tomahawk student newspaper critical of the school district. When Evans brought the issue up with a member of the school board, King canceled the journalism class and removed Evans as the paper's adviser, making the newspaper an after-school, extracurricular activity.
Plans to Restart High School Paper in Place
The San Jose Mercury News reports that school officials say the student newspaper at Carlmont High School newspaper in Belmont could begin publication again early next year after having its journalism program suspended for what was deemed “inappropriate” content. The suspension centered on a satirical article about a writer’s own “sexiness,” and the newspaper’s staff felt it was being censored for its decision to print it. But Principal Andrea Jenoff said it was a matter of finding a long-term adviser to guide the students’ work.
Principal’s Calls Spike a “Teachable Moment”
The Lodi News-Sentinel reports that students at Tokay High distributed the Tokay Press recently after a week-long impasse when Principal Erik Sandstrom stepped in and blocked the paper’s distribution on campus. They inserte a new page with a revised article in each of the 1,200 copies of the paper that Sandstrom spiked because of libel concerns with the story’s allegations that the athletic director had improperly obtained and used a logo that belongs to the University of Missouri. Sandstrom called the incident “a teachable moment,”
Blog Host Offers a Journalist Bailout Program
It’s not exactly the WPA Federal Writers’ Project, but one of the leading blog platforms is offering recently laid off journalists a free pro account, professional tech support, placement on the company’s blog aggregation site, and automatic enrollment in its advertising revenue-sharing program.
Court: Denial of Comment Violated Brown Act
A public utility district board violated the Brown Act in denying a resident engaged in litigation with the district over a sewer fee assessment the opportunity to address the board in an open meeting concerning that litigation, the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth District ruled in Galbiso v. Orosi Public Utility District, filed October 23. That violation laid the basis for a possible trial court award of attorney’s fees and costs to her as a prevailing plaintiff suing under the open meeting law, the court concluded.
Brown Act Issue: Offcial’s $300K Parachute
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports that turmoil has erupted in the Rialto school district since Superintendent Edna Davis-Herring resigned and the school board awarded her a $300,000 severance package. One issue: Did the board act in violation of the Brown Act when it took the action behind closed doors to both accept her resignation and give the severance? Richard McKee, president emeritus of Californians Aware, thinks so.
Juror: No Closed Trial in Journalist’s Murder
The Washington Post reports that the trial of three men accused of helping to organize the murder of one of Russia's most prominent investigative reporters, Anna Politkovskaya, took a surprise turn as a juror publicly challenged the court's decision to hold the proceedings behind closed doors—supposedly at the request of a fearful jury. “We are not cowards, of course. We were not afraid," said Yevgeny Kolesov. "They made a laughingstock of us."
The Official Advice on Cameras at the Polls
An Elections Division chief in the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, while unable to point to a law expressly banning photography at or within polling places, is advising county elections officials that her office “has historically taken the position that the use of cameras or video equipment at polling places is prohibited, though there may be circumstances where election officials could permit such use.” The example given is a press photo of a politician casting a ballot, “provided you ensure such activity does not interfere with voting, is not intimidating to any voters or election workers, and that the privacy of voters is not compromised.”
Trespass Law Amended to Protect Protesters
The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Berkeley City Council has rewritten its trespass ordinance to stop UC-Berkeley police from using it to arrest demonstrators on campus. The move came after two demonstrators arrested in separate incidents sued the city, saying its trespass law was being improperly applied by campus police.
Leafleters Arrested on College Campus
The Life Legal Defense Foundation reports that three college-age members of an anti-abortion evangelical group were arrested and jailed nearly 12 hours recently after their group refused to desist in carrying signs, handing out leaflets and engaging in conversation with students on the College of Alameda Campus.
Judge: Firefighters Suffered No Speech Injury
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that San Diego city officials did not violate the free-speech rights of four firefighters when they were ordered to attend last year's gay pride parade in Hillcrest. The four claimed they were subjected to sexually charged behavior and lewd comments while riding a fire engine in the July 2007 parade.
Watchdog’s Wish List Includes Transparency
GovernmentExecutive.com reports that the next presidential administration should focus on making the government operate more effectively and with greater accountability, openness and honesty, the Project on Government Oversight said in a seven-page priority list, the first of its kind prepared by the group, published late last month.
Treasury Officials Go Secret on Bailout Facts
WashingtonWatch.com reports that just two weeks after the passage of the bailout bill and one day after a Treasury Department official declared, “We are committed to transparency and oversight in all aspects of the program,” the department began covering up the amount it would pay to New York Mellon Bank to act as a financial agent in the bailout. It also reports that the department will not announce which banks are getting cash infusions in the next portion of its modified bailout program.
Foster Child Death Study Costs Paper a Year
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that, even under a relatively liberalized new law on access to information about the deaths of childen while in foster homes, it took more than a year of petitioning the juvenile court and conducting other research to assemble and understand redacted case files on 33 such deaths in San Diego County from 2000 to 2007.
State Workers Comp Board Gets First Sunshine
The Los Angeles Times reports that this month a little-known state agency that doubles as a $20-billion insurance company will hold its first public board of directors meeting in nearly a century, after years of secrecy, questionable behavior by board members and, more recently, scandal.
City Officials Blink at More Police Sunshine
The San Jose Mercury News reports that a citizen task force's proposal to require broader release of San Jose police reports—as part of a new sunshine ordinance—met stiff resistance recently from the mayor and council members, who cited law enforcement concerns about making crime-fighting more difficult, despite disclosure exemptions to protect personal safety, privacy or ongoing investigations.
Parent: School Assignment Not Transparent
Writing in BeyondChron.com, a parent with two children enrolled in the district explains why the San Francisco Unified School District’s assignment of pupils to particular schools needs to be a process as transparent as it possibly can be.
Firefighters’ OK Sought to Reveal Bonus Report
The Napa Valley Register reports that American Canyon City Attorney Bill Ross said the city has decided to make public a so-far-secret report regarding controversial firefighter bonuses—as soon as the affected employees and the local firefighters union allow it to be. The report concerns “educational” bonuses awarded for “life experience” credit from an online university not accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Last month the city council voted in closed session not to release the report—and not to disclose who voted for or against that decision.
Contractor Misconduct Database in New Law
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reports that President Bush has signed into law a bill that includes a provision to establish a database of information regarding the integrity and performance of federal contractors and grantees, which however will not be accessible by the public. POGO has just updated its own Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, on which the new official version was modeled.
Ted Stevens, Defender of Intel Budget Secrecy
Secrecy News blogger Steven Aftergood relates how the insistence on treating the total intelligence budget sum as classifiable sensitive information—a long tradition in the spy agencies only rarely departed from—had its chief champion in the U.S. Senate's newly convicted felon Ted Stevens of Alaska. Aftergood examines and explodes the megalocryptomania.
Judge to Feds: Release Watchlist Petitions
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that the Treasury Department must disclose petitions from individuals and groups who want to be taken off a list of suspect names maintained by the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The U.S. District Court in San Francisco ordered the release in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco represented by attorneys Thomas Burke and Jeff Glasser of Davis Wright Tremaine.
Officials Withhold Records on Bond Shortage
The Contra Costa Times reports that Pasadena Unified School District officials have refused to release invoices, an attorney's report and other records related to their investigation of at least $80,000 they say is unaccounted for from a 1997 school bond and is suspected to be embezzled.
Public Records Released Reveal . . .
CalAware Director, Others Win FOI Kudos
PeytonWolcott.com reports that the newspaper published by Tim Crews, a member of the board of directors of Californians Aware, has won two first place awards in the annual Better Newspapers Contest of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, presented late last month. Crews’ Sacramento Valley Mirror, published in Glenn County north of Sacramento, won top honors in the smaller weekly newspaper division for Investigative/Enterprise Reporting and for use of the Freedom of Information laws. The three other first place winners for Freedom of Information in their respective categories were the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, the Sacramento News & Review, and the Orange County Register. The publishers also presented their annual individual Freedom of Information award to Marji Lundstrom, investigative reporter for the Sacramento Bee.
Doctor’s Libel Suit against Newspaper Dismissed
LakeCountyNews.com reports that a judge has dismissed a libel suit filed by a neurologist against the Lake County Record-Bee taking issue with the newspaper’s report that she had “misdiagnosed” a local radio personality with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease before further testing concluded that the patient instead suffered from Dystonia.
Times Sits on Key Video at Source’s Request
The Los Angeles Times reports it was being criticized by the McCain-Palin campaign for refusing to release a video about which it published a news story last April concerning a 2003 tribute dinner at which Barack Obama praised a Palestinian scholar. The newspaper’s statement was that the video is being withheld “because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it."
D.A.: Home Meeting Violated Brown Act
The Wave Newspapers in Los Angeles report that Mayor Maria Santillan and two other members of Lynwood’s five-member city council have been notified by the District Attorney’s Office of Public Integrity that they violated the Brown Act in attending a community meeting held at the mayor’s home in September to discuss a proposed utility users’ tax.
Judge: CEQA Listings Unlawfully Opaque
CityWatchLA.com reports that a Superior Court judge has ruled that the Los Angeles Planning Commission’s habit of using meeting agendas to obscure what will be under discussion—like referring to a proposed action item with major environmental consequences as “ENV-2007-2939-MND”—violates state law. In the Brown Act challenge brought for a neighborhood group by attorney Robert Silverstein, Judge David Yaffe noted that the commission’s agenda items were clearly described, “except actions to be taken or considered under the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Court: Police Review Body Must Exclude Public
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a state appeals court has ruled that civilian police review boards like Berkeley's must exclude the public from their meetings in order to keep officers' personnel records confidential.
School Board Won’t Cop to Brown Act Breach
The Orange County Register reports that Capistrano Unified School District trustees recently rejected their attorney's opinion that they should admit a “technical” violation of the state's open-meeting law during a subcommittee meeting last month, opening a door for a lawsuit targeting the transparency of the school board's activities.
D.A. Gets Complaint about Anti-Drug Network
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that Chris Bray, who as a newspaper reporter four years ago successfully sued to have a drug enforcement task force organized by Los Angeles County police chiefs open at least some of its meetings to the public, says he’s asking District Attorney Steve Cooley’s Public Integrity Division to investigate the agency for further violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act.
City Settles Brown Act Suit Brought by Paper
The Santa Barbara Independent reports that the City of Santa Barbara has settled a Brown Act lawsuit brought by Ampersand Publishing, parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press, involving a brief discussion almost a year ago by three members of a volunteer committee concerning a matter not listed on the agenda: the redesign of a city plaza.
Council to State Courts: Mind Public Access
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California Judicial Council, responding to an incident last summer, told the state's judges at its most recent meeting to include “public access to court proceedings” as a factor in their security plans. Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) proposed the reminder after Yolo County sheriff's deputies excluded all but their own from a Woodland courtroom last June for the arraignment of a man charged with killing a fellow deputy.
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.
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.
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.”
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 . . .
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."
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.
CalAware Joins Chorus against Bailout Secrecy
Californians Aware is among 50 national and regional organizations calling on the leadership of Congress's financial regulation committees—with copies to all other lawmakers—to avoid exempting the Secretary of the Treasury from laws designed to allow public scrutiny of governmental action as they consider enacting the proposed $70 billion financial industry bailout legislation. The Senate letter to this effect, sent today, concludes, “Any genuine solution must be grounded in transparency, with all relevant records publicly available and best practice whistleblower protection for all employees connected with the new law. Secrecy worsened this crisis, and taxpayers will not accept a law for secret solutions. What happens to our money is our business.”
Bond Oversight Board to Be Queried Privately
The Stockton Record reports that auditors investigating San Joaquin Delta College's use of bond money will do so privately, despite the objections of at least two of the four members of a citizen oversight committee charged with reviewing bond measure expenditures, producing an annual report and informing the public. The audit was requested by a state senator after a grand jury report asserted that Delta trustees wasted millions of dollars in selecting a location for a new campus.
Berkeley Activists Unveil Sunshine Law Draft
The Berkeley Daily Planet reports that a citizen’s group comprising political advocates, lawyers, commissioners, a former Berkeley mayor and other Berkeley residents met publicly for the first time September 9 to unveil their own draft sunshine ordinance, created as an alternative to the former city attorney’s proposal, both of which promise more open government in the city.
‘Bug Board’ Orders Probe of Report’s Leak
The Desert Sun in Palm Springs reports that, citing the need to protect the integrity of the board and its closed sessions, Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District trustees have voted to launch a probe into the leak of an investigative report noting that its former general manager had complained of sexual harassment by its former legal counsel.
Attorney: Courts Perverting Anti-SLAPP Law
Recent decisions by two California Courts of Appeal have turned California’s anti-SLAPP law into a legal Frankenstein’s monster, says a leading attorney specializing in open government law. In doing so, he argues, they have converted a law designed to protect the public’s exercise of free speech and petition rights into a tool for government suppression of those rights.
Trustees Restrict Student Cellphone Uses
The Vallejo Times Herald reports that trustees of the Vallejo City Unified School District have adopted tough regulations governing cell phones, banning the use of camera phones and other electronic devices by students to record videos of schoolyard fights, prohibiting students from recording videos in rest rooms, locker rooms or other zones of presumed privacy, and requiring students to get permission from individuals before videotaping them on campus.
Church Members Get Tongue-Biting Tips
The Orange County Register reports that local church leaders went to a workshop recently where a lawyer coached them on how to—or not to—express political views in view of increased IRS scrutiny and their congregations’ potential loss of federal tax-free status.
Speech Not Free for Berkeley Tree-Sitters
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Berkeley's notorious tree-sitters have been hit with a rude surprise since they came down to earth. Judges are socking them with fines and legal fees that could total more than $10,000 per sitter, much of it payable to the University of California, at which the arboreal sit-in was directed in an effort to save a grove of trees from removal to make way for an athletic center.
Oakland Council Offers Employee Shield
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland city employees who report fraud, waste and abuse would be protected from retaliation under a new whistleblowers program approved by the City Council. Allegations of fraud and nepotism have prompted a federal criminal investigation of city hall.
Court: Air Marshal Unprotected in Leak
The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that the federal Department of Homeland Security lawfully fired an air marshal after he gave a reporter an embarrassing but routine memo on reducing hotel costs by eliminating overnight airline trips for marshals for a month. The air marshal said he leaked the memo after his boss ignored his safety concerns.
Journalists Offer Political Research Guidance
The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will this Saturday morning present "Follow the Documents," a workshop intended to help reporters sort through campaign finance records and other public documents, but open to the public for an $8 fee. Award-winning political reporter David Zahniser of the Los Angeles Times will teach the nuts and bolts to finding and understanding campaign finance reports, economic interest filings and other public documents.
Federal Electronic Records ‘Blip into Oblivion’
The New York Times reports that the National Archives is in the early stages of creating a permanent electronic record-keeping system with the help of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, hoping to take in huge quantities of White House records when President Bush leaves office in January. But elsewhere in the federal domain, employees grappling with a staggering growth in electronic records do not regularly preserve the documents they create on government computers, send by e-mail and post on the Web.
Bar Exam Data Case Won’t Start in High Court
The Recorder in San Francisco reports that if a UCLA law professor gains access to California Bar exam data for his own study on racial preferences, he'll have to start somewhere other than the California Supreme Court, which without getting to the merits has directed him to re-file in a lower court. Professor Richard Sander has been trying since 2006 to get the Bar's data to build on a 2004 study he did that suggested affirmative action might be responsible for black students' high bar failure rates nationwide.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
Judge Gags Paper from Reporting Testimony
The Orange County Register reports that the judge presiding in an impending class action suit against the newspaper brought by its delivery carriers has ordered the paper not to publish any testimony of witnesses in the proceeding—an order immediately challenged to the California Court of Appeal as an unconstitutional prior restraint. The five-year-old case was brought by carriers who want to be treated as employees rather than independent contractors.
Chauncey Bailey Project Stays on the Case
PR Newswire reports that in the aftermath of the August 2007 murder of Chauncey Bailey, the first American journalist to be killed in the U.S. in 31 years while working on a story, an investigative team of Bay Area journalists has uncovered key facts about his murder and continued the investigation into possible criminal activities of the Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland.
Mayor Has Five Draft Paparazzi Ordinances
The Malibu Surfside News reports that despite repeated assertions by Malibu’s mayor that no new laws to restrict local paparazzi activities were being drafted, the texts of five ordinances that do just that are included in a one-foot-thick stack of documents compiled for her by faculty and staff at the Pepperdine School of Law. The Society of Professional Journalists has expressed concern.
St. Paul Drops Charges against Journalists
LATimes.com reports that dozens of journalists arrested on misdemeanor charges while reporting on protests outside of the Republican National Convention earlier this month will not be prosecuted, the mayor of St. Paul has announced. The city attorney has insisted, however, that the arrests of the journalists were not improper.
D.A. Issues Warning on Use of Closed Session
The Pasadena Star-News reports that the Public Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has sent the Pasadena City Council a stern warning on its use of a closed personnel session to discuss whether council members would support a resolution to oppose the construction of an NFL stadium in the neighboring City of Industry.
Mayor’s Home-hosted Meeting on Tax Faulted
The Wave in Los Angeles reports that questions have been raised about the legality of a meeting that took place last week at the home of Mayor Maria Santillan where both supporters and undecided individuals came together to discuss the pros and cons of a proposed utility users tax on the November 4 ballot, and where two other City Council members were present, constituting a majority of that body.
Odd Label Used for Closed Session with Chief
The Sun in San Bernardino reports that the City Council’s agenda-listed reason for a closed session discussion with the chief of a demoralized police department was to confer with the chief concerning the security of public buildings and citizens’ access to them.
Watchdog Thanked for Spotting Agenda Error
Writing in the Newsblog forum of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Matthew T. Hall reports that the city Planning Commission had to cancel a meeting after an alert resident pointed out that the agenda hadn’t been posted far enough in advance in a place open to the public. It was the first time that had happened in the eight years Chairman Barry Schultz had served on the commission, but he thanked the citizen for her vigilance.
Court: CalAware’s Suit a Losing SLAPP
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that a suit by Californians Aware against the Orange Unified School District, claiming that it violated the civil rights of district trustee Steve Rocco by censuring him and editing his comments out of a board meeting tape it prepared for cable television, was properly stricken under the anti-SLAPP law. Rocco was a co-plaintiff with CalAware, whose board of directors is now reviewing its options.
DMV Reconsiders, OKs 'HIV POZ' Plate
The San Jose Mercury News reports that in June, a local HIV-positive motorist applied for an "HIV POZ" personalized plate for his 2007 Prius. Saturday, he received a letter from the department rejecting his request, but after a query by the Mercury News, the DMV has reversed the denial. Ten years ago the department lost a lawsuit brought by a motorcyclist whose application for an “HIV POS” plate was rejected.
Teacher Can Sue to Keep Faith Banners
The Los Angeles Times reports that a veteran high school math teacher has won a round in federal court in his fight to put "God Bless America" and "One Nation Under God" banners back in his San Diego classroom, where they had hung for two decades before the principal ordered him to take them down last year, saying they were an impermissible attempt to make a Judeo-Christian statement to his students.
Court: Animal Cruelty Ads Can Be Banned
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the California Court of Appeal has rejected a constitutional challenge to a West Hollywood ordinance banning “mobile billboard advertising” by a nonprofit group seeking to broadcast graphic images of animal abuse on large video screens mounted on a truck.
Governor Gets Bill Protecting Cybercritics
The California Newspaper Publishers Association reports that a bill it sponsored to protect the anonymity of those posting messages on the Internet from arbitrary abuse has been sent to the Governor. AB 2433 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank). CNPA says, would make it easier for an Internet service provider or anonymous speaker to find a lawyer to oppose an abusive subpoena issued from an out-of-state court by requiring the court to award attorney’s fees under the same circumstances as apply to SLAPP suits: where the subpoenaing party seeking to learn the speaker’s identity fails to satisfy the court that its proposed suit against the speaker is likely to be a winner.
District Ponders Restraints on Cyberbullies
The Californian in Temecula reports that school district administrators soon will draft regulations governing how to enforce a recently approved policy prohibiting cyberbullying. In doing so, it says, they will have to navigate between a desire to discourage online cruelty and protection for students' free-speech rights.
New Software Tuned to Screen Cyberbozos
The StupidFilter Project announces the beta version of its new software designed to help Internet comment moderators eliminate (if they choose) postings marked by telltale markers of likely dimwititude, e.g. “comments with too much or too little capitalization, too many text-message abbreviations, excessive use of ‘LOL,’ exclamation points, and so on.” But not, fortunately, speling errars.
Court: Festival Can Ban Biker Gang Colors
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has decided that the organizer of the Gilroy Garlic Festival did not violate the civil rights of four motorcycle club members when it prevented the men from wearing vests displaying their club affiliation.
No Prosecution for Abortion Protesters
The Orange County Register reports that abortion protesters arrested in February on charges of trespassing at Cypress College won't face jail time or a criminal trial; prosecutors have dropped the charges, concluding that the protesters’ refusal to confine their handbilling to designated “free speech zones” may have violated campus policy but was not a criminal offense.
Escribitionists Can be Dooced at Will
The San Diego Reader reminds those concerned that a private sector boss, not bound by the First Amendment to respect your speech rights, can not only fire (“dooce”) you for blogging (about anything) but can refuse to hire (“pre-dooce”) bloggers (“escribitionists”) in the first place.
Federal Secrecy Report Card Released
OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of over 70 open government advocates including Californians Aware, announces that Government secrecy increased across a wide spectrum of indicators in 2007. The findings of the 2008 Secrecy Report Card, published annually to identify trends in public access to government information, include:
Activist Fights Copyrighting of the Law
The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports that California claims copyright to its laws, published on line, and warns people not to share them, and that's not sitting right with Internet gadfly and open-access hero Carl Malamud. He has spent the last couple months scanning tens of thousands of pages containing city, county and state laws—think building codes, banking laws, etc. Malamud wants the state to sue him for publishing his copies of the codes on his website.
Report: Public Input No Quality Guarantee
Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy notes that a new report from the National Research Council probes deeply into the positive and occasionally negative effects of public participation on the environmental policymaking process. “It is practically an article of faith in democratic societies that openness and public participation are presumptively good,” says Aftergood, “but that doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Letter Deluge Demands Charges Be Dropped
Timothy Karr, writing in the Huffington Post, reports that journalists and local residents assembled outside St. Paul City Hall Friday to deliver more than 60,000 letters to Mayor Chris Coleman and prosecuting attorneys demanding that they immediately drop charges against all journalists arrested last week as they covered the Republican National Convention. Dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers were booked by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office in what Karr says appears to have been an orchestrated roundup of both traditional and new media witnesses covering protests during the convention. The St. Paul PD now says it couldn't tell press from protesters.
Radical Media Computers Seized in Raid
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the FBI, UC Berkeley police, and Alameda County Sheriff's deputies raided and seized every computer hard drive and storage disk, including those of Slingshot, a quarterly newspaper, and Berkeley Liberation Radio, housed in the Long Haul Infoshop, a storefront work space used by a number of leftist and anarchist groups. EFF notes that the raiders, seeking the source of threatening e-mails traced to Long Haul, may have violated federal law in seizing the media property without special cause.
DA: Unfair to Try to Punish Defiant Trustees
The Orange County Register reports that District Attorney prosecutors say that while a school board violated the Brown Act at least four times earlier this year, with some trustees showing "disturbing disdain, if not outright contempt" for constituents when meeting behind closed doors, it would be unfair to take legal action because doing so would hurt the cash-strapped district financially and because the board was reconstituted in June by a recall election that ousted two longtime trustees.
City Seeks Closed Hearing in Firing Lawsuit
The Stockton Record reports that the City of Lathrop, sued for wrongful termination by its former chief building official, who was fired in February, has asked the San Joaquin Superior Court to close the first hearing in the case to protect the privacy of city witnesses.
City to Post Candidate Finances on Web
San Luis Obispo.com reports that, hoping to build public trust and improve the election campaign process, Atascadero is the first local city to post state-mandated donation and financial declarations online.
Bill Would Make Judge Vetting More Public
California Chronicle.com reports that the Legislature has passed and sent to the Governor AB 2095 by Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), which would require governors to disclose the names of individuals who assist them in choosing judges—a list of advisors that up to now has been kept secret.
Court: Some Legislative Secrecy Lawful
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the California Court of Appeal has upheld a trial court ruling that the Legislature did not violate the Legislative Open Records Act by refusing to disclose various documents, including e-mails pertaining to the decision to require that all work on a project designed to enhance Capitol security by controlling access to the building and grounds be done under union contract.
District Mum on Probe of Sidelined Manager
The Palm Springs Desert Sun reports that officials with the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District have known for about a month whether an investigator found evidence of misconduct by the agency’s general manager, who remains in his sixth month on paid administrative leave; this week, district officials refused to make public the investigation's results.
Constituent Contact Information Withheld
The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports that the Clerk of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has quietly begun redacting contact information—including phone numbers, street addresses, and e-mail addresses—from all communications sent to the supervisors by members of the public.
Paper Decides to Keep Names off Pay Lists
The editor of the Marysville daily Appeal-Democrat says that after considerable outcry from those affected he has decided to leave the names of rank-and-file employees off a database of local government salaries to be placed on the newspaper’s website.
State Bar Responds to Suit for Exam Data
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the State Bar of California is arguing in papers filed with the California Supreme Court that personal and academic information about bar examination applicants cannot be released to a UCLA researcher, even if stripped of their identities.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
Court Rejects Mall’s Limits on Union Picketing
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a federal appeals court has ruled that California shopping malls can't prohibit union members from carrying picket signs, standing on sidewalks or picketing during the peak holiday season.
LAPD Rousts Park Petitioners: Where’s ACLU?
Walter Moore, Blogging on City Watch LA.com, asks where the ACLU is in the wake of an August 17 police raid on signature gatherers for a proposed “Jamiel’s Law” in a public park, denying their right to be there and telling them they would have to approach people door to door instead.
City Blocks Staff’s Access to ‘Political’ Blogs
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Vallejo's city manager has barred city employees from reading two local blogs that focus on the city's descent into bankruptcy, adding the Vallejo Times Herald's local news blog and the Vallejo Is Burning website to the list of Internet addresses employees cannot access from city computers. The Times Herald reports that a third site has also been blocked and that the city manager has stopped denying that the decision was his.
Watchdogs: Political Speech Needs ISP Respect
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that it and the ACLU of Northern California are urging Internet service providers to take extra precautions before pulling the plug on political speech by their customer websites in response to complaints or controversy. They also ask owners of copied content to “count to ten” and look at the fair use principles in copyright law for some guidance before firing off a complaint.
Judge: Fair Use an Issue in Takedown Demands
Wired.com reports that, in the nation's first such ruling, a federal judge has said copyright owners must consider "fair use" of their works before sending takedown notices to online video-sharing sites. The doctrine permits limited use of copyright materials without the owner's permission.
Pact: Laborers Can Seek Work from Curbside
The Associated Press reports that a settlement between day laborers and the Orange County sheriff's office calls for authorities to acknowledge workers' rights to stand on sidewalks and seek work without being harrassed, according to attorneys for the laborers.
Some Internet Firms Wary of Challenging China
The Financial Times of London reports that although the board of directors of the California First Amendment Coalition includes Google’s associate general counsel and the vice-president and editor in chief of Yahoo News, the organization’s effort to have China’s Internet censorship declared a violation of international trade law has not won uniform industry support.
Photographer Sues after Detention by Police
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an Oakland Tribune photographer has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Oakland, saying police illegally barred him from taking pictures at a freeway crash scene and handcuffed him when he persisted.
Publishers Protect Journalists in Researcher Bill
The California Newspaper Publishers Association reports that it has obtained an amendment to the latest version of AB 2296—a measure to protect animal and other academic researchers from threats or acts of terrorism—that would prevent a researcher from seeking an injunction against anyone employed or contracted as a journalist for a newspaper, broadcaster or news service. The amendment, CNPA says, is intended to safeguard newspapers and journalists from potentially frivolous litigation associated with stories about animal research.
Google Says Property Incursions No Trespass
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that, in a sweeping legal claim, Google recently stated it has the right to enter private roads and driveways to take photographs of people and their property, and then publish the images online for their “Street Views.” Some media lawyers are not so sure.
Bill Corrects UC Whistleblower Decision
Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) reports that he has responded to a recent decision by the California Supreme Court by introducing legislation to provide University of California employees with the same whistleblower protections and legal standing as all other state employees. The legislation, an amendment to SB 1199, is sponsored by Californians Aware.
Bill Aids Local Government Whistleblowers
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a bill allowing cities and counties to set up whistleblower hotlines and ensure confidentiality for employees who use them to report alleged fraud, waste and mismanagement has been approved by the California Legislature.
Pitching Sunshine to the Next President
Californians Aware and 31 national open government organizations have drafted a memorandum to be presented to the transition team of the President-elect in November outlining priorities that should be addressed by the new administration, including:
Editorial Attacks E-mail Privacy Initiative
An editorial in the Irvine Tattler.com takes Irvine Councilman Larry Agran to task for his ballot initiative purporting to make e-mails sent to city hall exempt from disclosure as private information. Agran cites the need to protect children, the writer says, but really wants to keep the city's e-mail address lists away from political rivals.
County Posts Salaries—But Not Names
The Contra Costa Times reports that Contra Costa County has put the total salaries and benefits of more than 8,500 employees on its website, an online disclosure that may be the first detailed compensation posted by a government agency in the state. The list does not include employees' names.
Judge Faults City Attorney on Records
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a Superior Court judge has criticized San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre over his office's reluctance to release documents under the California Public Records Act, and has ordered him to justify with more specificity the withholding of records requested by a local attorney last fall, seeking phone records and other communications in the hopes of helping a State Bar of California investigation of Aguirre's conduct while in office.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
Bill Makes Cyber-bullying a School Offense
ArsTechnica.com notes that cyber-bullying among kids is an unfortunate reality, and a bill that the California Legislature just sent to the Governor could give schools power to take action against students who use online harassment to make school life miserable for their peers.
High Court Agrees to Take Krishnas/LAX Case
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Los Angeles International Airport is a public forum under the “liberty of speech clause” of the California Constitution and if so, whether a city ordinance prohibiting anyone from soliciting funds in LAX's terminals and parking areas or on its sidewalks violates the California Constitution. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals referred those issues to the state court, saying it would resolve an appeal in the long-running litigation between the Hare Krishna movement and city officials.
Plastic Surgeon’s Plea for Gag Order Denied
OC Weekly reports that a plastic surgeon who practiced most recently in Huntington Beach and who is about to go on trial with the Medical Board of California for violating the terms of the board’s alcohol-abuse treatment program, has failed to get a restraining order against a former patient’s use of the Internet http://medicalcomplaint.blogspot.com/ to attack his reputation.
Court: VA Hospitals Can Ban Voter Signups
The San Jose Mercury News reports that a federal appeals court has upheld a Veterans Administration policy barring voter registration drives inside its hospitals, concluding the rule does not violate the First Amendment. And Veterans for Common Sense charges that the Bush Administration is deliberately working to disenfranchise injured and homeless veterans in the approach to the November election.
New Law Narrows What Candidates Can Say
Contra Costa Times columnist Linda Vorderbrueggen reports that the content of a candidate statement — the one published in the ballot pamphlet you receive from the election office — is limited to a recitation of the candidate's qualifications and personal background and cannot refer to other candidates, a rule she calls “outrageous.” Before July 2007, the restriction applied only to candidates for judgeships.
Mayor Wants Cameras Tracking Cameramen
The Malibu Times reports that in an effort to address the escalating celebrity photoswarm conflict in Malibu, Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich has suggested placing cameras in certain areas to record possible high-speed paparazzi chases and harassment of residents. Meanwhile, reports the Malibu Surfside News, other cities in the region are also studying paparazzi regulations.
Garden Grove Teacher is Bill’s Poster Child
The Orange County Register reports that while bad cafeteria food, subpar bathrooms and unavailable teachers sound like typical student complaints, student newspaper editorials voicing such concerns cost Janet Ewell her role as journalism adviser at Rancho Alamitos High School, and prompted her to work for legislation, now about to go to the Governor, that would spare other journalism advisors her fate.
Study: Military Courts Nearly Invisible to Public
The public has a slim chance of discovering the existence of criminal hearings and trials conducted by U.S. armed forces around the world, according to a yearlong study of military justice practices by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Fired Coach Sues on Denial of Open Session
The Contra Costa Times reports that two months after being fired in the aftermath of a complaint by a player's parents, a former girls basketball coach has sued the Acalanes Union High School District and its school board for the trustees’ alleged failure to provide him the opportunity to confront accusations against him in an open session.
Agency Faces Suit over Its CEO’s Termination
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a redevelopment activist plans to sue the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., saying that the SEDC Board violated the Brown Act in recently firing its president, Carolyn Smith. She was given 90 days notice and will receive $100,350 severance, but SEDC has never explained how that number was calculated.
School Trustee Admits Closed Session Leak
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that a Scotts Valley school board member has publicly apologized to fellow trustees for violating a state law protecting confidential information. At the end of a recent board meeting, Jondi Gumz divulged that she "inadvertently shared information from a closed session," but did not cite specifics. Gumz is a Sentinel reporter who has covered education issues, but now writes about business and health care.
Plant Expansion Closed Discussion Assailed
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that environmental health organizers are accusing the Chula Vista City Council of an “underhanded backdoor deal” and “selling out” the public's health for money after the council held a closed meeting to discuss a power-plant expansion.
Bill: Secret Changes to Executive Orders
Steven Aftergood of the federal agency watchdog site Secrecy News reports that the President would no longer be able to secretly modify or revoke a published executive order if a new bill introduced in the Senate last week becomes law. The Justice Department, in an unreleased opinion, says there is no law now preventing presidents from quietly changing or abandoning published orders.
Supervisors Still Mum on Hospital Staff
The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles County supervisors continued last week to refuse to release details about 17 employees who worked at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital despite having serious criminal histories or lying about their records.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
Top Schools Insist on Freedom of Research
The San Jose Mercury News reports that, caught between the demands of academic freedom and national security in a post-Sept. 11 world, the Bay Area's two major research universities are walking away from lucrative research contracts rather than consenting to intrusive restrictions on their work.
Indictment of MySpace Cyberbully Faulted
Jon Healey reports in the Los Angeles Times Opinion L.A. blog that three consumer advocacy groups and 14 law professors have urged a federal judge in Los Angeles not to let federal prosecutors pursue an indictment of the Missouri woman whose online prank caused a 13-year-old acquaintance of her daughter to hang herself in 2006, unable to cope with the verbal abuse suddenly heaped upon her by a supposed friend on MySpace.
Governor Gets Student Press Advisors Bill
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the state Senate has sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger legislation prohibiting administrators from retaliating against high school and college journalism teachers when their students publish stories or comments offensive to the officials but protected by law.
LAPD Chief Cool on Proposed ‘Britney Law’
CNN.com reports that the sponsor of a proposal to rein in aggressive celebrity photographers is meeting resistance from Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, who argues that it would be difficult to enforce and that existing laws can keep unruly packs of photographers in check.
State Lawmakers All Back Federal Shield Law
California Chronicle.com reports that the California State Legislature last month unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Congress to enact a shield law to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources to federal grand juries or face jail terms for contempt.
Court: Ex-UC Livermore Lab Workers Lose
The Associated Press reports that the California Supreme Court has unanimously decided that two former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists are barred from suing over allegations they were fired for complaining about safety problems. The court cited the state's whistleblower law, which bars such complaints against the University of California as long as the school system seriously considers the grievance and makes a timely decision.
Officials Resisting More Police Disclosure
The San Jose Mercury News reports that a San Jose open-government proposal to require broader release of police reports and other official records is facing stiff opposition from city administrators, who say the far-reaching recommendations would be costly and jeopardize crime fighting.
Columnist: Will Hard-Pressed Press Sue?
Contra Costa Times columnist Thomas Peele salutes the willingness of a Redding newspaper to pay for a lawsuit forcing the city to release public records. That success also means the city will have to pay at least most of the paper’s attorney’s fees, but there’s always a risk that such litigation will not succeed and the paper will have to eat the fees. With the newspaper industry in such dire financial straits, Peele wonders, will publishers continue to risk legal costs to keep public information public?
Irvine Will Put Citizens’ Privacy to a Vote
The Orange County Register reports that voters in November will weigh in on tighter restrictions on the city’s release of residents' personal information sent to City Hall, allowing officials to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to disclose information given to the city for a "limited specific purpose" and which the city has promised to keep confidential.
TV Station Audits Police Records Practices
Sacramento TV station KCRA Channel 3 reports that of a dozen area law enforcement agencies it audited recently to determine their compliance with the California Public Records Act, nine passed its tests and three failed.
Official: I Was Fired for Requesting Records
The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports that a member of the Cerritos Fine Arts and Historical Commission, relieved of his post by the City Council, says he plans to sue for infringing on his right to file a public records request.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
. . . that, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News, even as city residents and employees are encouraged to curb their driving habits, many of the city's top elected officials are still driving SUVs or large sedans that get less than 25 miles per gallon and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars a year to keep on the road.
Recall Group Appeals Supermarket’s Ban
The Associated Press reports that backers of a movement to recall Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez and two council members have appealed a Solano County Superior Court ruling that restricts them from gathering signatures on recall petitions at the Raley's supermarket in the Heritage Mall.
Gospel Speaker Banned from Public Square
The Modesto Bee reports that after peaceably if loudly preaching almost every Saturday night for three years in a public plaza in downtown Modesto, a man was told by the city that he and his friends can no longer do so on Saturday nights, when the plaza is rented for $100 to a multiplex cinema theater located there; the ban has prompted a lawsuit.
ACLU Protests County’s Print Banishment
NewsBlaze.com reports that the ACLU of Sacramento called a proposed policy on the consent agenda for today’s meeting of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors a "direct assault on the First Amendment of the United States and California Constitution" that would make County government buildings "No Free Speech Zones." The policy would, among other things, ban from County facilities any flyer, brochure or other printed materials not produced by the County.
Minutemen’s Sign Re-posted Near Border
The Los Angeles Times reports that an anti-illegal-immigration group's Adopt-a-Highway sign has been re-posted on Interstate 5 near the Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente after a federal judge ruled that it did not pose a danger to the public.
Animal Shelter Volunteer Files Lawsuit
The Union in Grass Valley reports that a volunteer at the Nevada County Animal Shelter has sued Sheriff Keith Royal and two of his officers in federal court for violation of her free speech rights, alleging she was terminated recently two days after she questioned one of the officers about "the propriety and legality of the planned euthanization of one of the kennel dogs.” The complaint also alleges that volunteers were told “not to speak to the media or answer any questions from the media regarding shelter operations."
Student Speech Defenders Fight for Fees
The Marin Independent Journal reports that the free speech case brought by a student journalist and Novato High School took six years and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the student won. But even that didn't end the dispute; the fight over legal fees, sought in the amount of $1.2 million, has now reached the California Court of Appeal.
Columnist: Climb Down and Get a Cause
“People are losing their homes and jobs in droves. The economy is falling apart. Thousands upon thousands of people are dying in the war in Iraq, writes MediaNews columnist Tammerlin Drummond. “But, heck, who cares about that when there are trees to save in Berkeley.”
Commission Nudged to Police ‘Robocalls’
Campaigns and Elections.com reports that the California Public Utilities Commission is coming under fire from those who say it is not enforcing existing regulations on “robocalls”—automated political phone messages. It's the same story in a number of states that currently have laws on the books that restrict the practice: The laws are rarely enforced and actual penalties for violators are nearly non-existent.
Your Tax $ at Work, on W_ _d Suppression
Reasononline reports that earlier this year, when Mt. Shasta proprietor Vaune Dillman turned in his application to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for approval of the label for a new beer he planned to start bottling, he included the design of the bottle caps. Shortly thereafter, the TTB advised him by fax that the slogan “Try legal Weed” was an impermissible “drug reference,” adding, “We do not believe that responsible industry members should want or would want to portray their products in any socially unacceptable manner.”
Kids Rebuked for Patriotic Song in Capitol
Capitol Resource Institute reports that students attending a youth leadership conference were reprimanded by capitol security on July 13 for singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” in the state capitol rotunda. Officers of the Highway Patrol and the capitol sergeants-at-arms told the students that singing in the building was forbidden without a permit from the Joint Rules Committee.
College to Teacher: If Asked, Don’t Tell
LifeSiteNews.com reports that an adjunct professor fired from San Jose City College for answering a student's in-class question about heredity and homosexual behavior has filed a federal lawsuit http://www.telladf.org/UserDocs/SheldonComplaint.pdf against the school. June Sheldon’s answer in part mentioned that a particular scientist had found a correlation between maternal stress, maternal androgens, and male homosexual orientation at birth, but that his views were only one set of theories in the nature versus nurture debate. When another student complained, the school pursued the matter and ultimately fired Sheldon.
Reporter Not Ordered to Name Source
The Los Angeles Times reports that a federal judge in Santa Ana has declined to order a reporter, who invoked his 5th Amendment protection against testifying, to reveal his source for information in a 2006 story on a grand jury probe into a conspiracy to send sensitive information to China. Earlier, as reported in Steven Aftergood’s Secrecy News blog, the reporter explained to the court the importance of confidential government sources and their role in his work “related to the growing threat from the People’s Republic of China.”
Justice Demands Magazine’s Retraction
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that a justice of the California Court of Appeal has demanded that a national magazine retract an article asserting that he “turned to” the then-chief executive of Countrywide Financial Corp. for refinancing of his home and suggesting a relationship between the refinancing and a case before the court.
Columnist: Bank Crises Not Press’s Fault
Orange County Register columnist Jonathan Lansner writes that John Reich, the nation's top savings and loan regulator, missed the mark in a speech last week to a bankers’ convention in which he decried the media's purported role in fomenting financial turmoil that allegedly sank an S&L on his watch—IndyMac Bank of Pasadena—and has since haunted other bankers. Reich, he says, “seems troubled that some reporters want to ask experts what banks and S&Ls may be at risk, and then they have the audacity to then inform their audiences of those potential troubled institutions.”
Ex-Speaker’s Chronicle Column Faulted
SF Weekly reports that newsroom staff at the San Francisco Chronicle are “sickened” by the newspaper’s decision to offer a regular Sunday column to longtime Assembly Speaker, ex-mayor and veteran lobbyist Willie Brown. For them, it says, “reading it became a game of Where's Waldo, in which players sought to find the greatest number of violations of the paper's ethical code.”
Videographer Claims Censoring Attempt
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario reports that a man who filmed a June 10 lecture by a Turkish diplomat at Claremont Graduate University now has a website criticizing the university, alleging it is trying to censor his film on the Internet.
No Charges Yet in Malibu ‘Paps’ Faceoff
The Los Angeles Times reports that a month after two June beach skirmishes between paparazzi and Malibu locals, despite video clips of the events seen worldwide on the Internet, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has not charged anyone in the incidents, in part because many of the harassed ‘paps’ are unknown and unwilling to complain, says a department spokesman.
Another Student Paper Advisor Uprooted
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Fallbrook High School will not have a student newspaper in the coming school year, the apparent fallout of a move by administrators to remove the paper's adviser after he protested the censorship of an article and a student editorial.
Quorum AWOL at Police Auditor Meeting
KMPH-TV, Fresno reports that Mayor Alan Autry's attempt to bring an independent police auditor (IPA) to Fresno was stymied when a meeting of the City Council set this week to decide on whether to place the IPA position on the November ballot for voters failed to get a quorum when only three of the seven members showed up.
Paparazzi Ordinance Drafting Criticized
The Malibu Times reports that a freelance journalist and Malibu resident has accused the municipal leaders of having violated the Ralph M. Brown Act when by allowing a group of lawyers to work on drafting a paparazzi ordinance proposal behind closed doors; he told the Times he may sue.
D.A. Backs out of Brown Act Training Date
The Watsonville Register Pajaronian reports that an assistant district attorney’s concerns over a possible conflict of interest led him to withdraw from a Brown Act briefing session for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s board of trustees, who are already defending two lawsuits under the open meeting law. The attorney representing the plaintiff in those cases called the conflict risk “illusory.”
Bills to Reduce Over-classification Approved
UPI reports that the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee has unanimously passed two bills authored by California Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Venice) that would reduce excessive security classifications by the Department of Homeland Security.
Study: No Great FOIA Progress in 2 Years
A just completed study by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government shows that federal departments and agencies made little progress in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, despite a two-year-old presidential directive to improve service. The report, “An Opportunity Lost,” says agencies cut staff and FOIA spending in 2007 and as a result failed to take advantage of a sharp fall-off in FOIA requests to make significant reductions in the backlog of unprocessed requests
Governor Signs Bill on Access to Contracts
State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) reports that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last week signed into law Yee’s bill, SB 1696, to allow greater public access to government contracts as well as audits and reviews of public agencies.
Judge to Unseal Records in Facebook Case
CNET News.com reports that the public will be allowed a peek at some of what was said two weeks ago during a settlement hearing in the long-running legal dispute between ConnectU and Facebook.
Biofuels Study Suppressed for Bush’s Sake?
The United Kingdom’s newspaper The Guardian reports it has a copy of a World Bank report concluding that biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75 percent—far more than previously estimated. The report has been kept confidential, the paper says, to avoid embarrassing President Bush, who has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China. The World Bank study states, "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."
Paper Presents Freedom of Information Site
The United Kingdom’s newspaper The Guardian devotes a page of its website to the English and Scottish Freedom of Information Acts, with both explanations of how the laws work, guides to using them, and a list of the paper’s own stories about open government issues, or made possible with information from government files obtained under the laws.
School District Short on Special Ed Facts
The Morgan Hill Times reports that school district officials gave few answers to the many questions asked of them via a special education-related California Public Records Act Request filed by a district parent and trustee, saying they just don't have the documents handy.
District Hospital Keeps Kaiser Deal Secrets
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that most of the important details of a 2004 contract between the Palomar Pomerado Health District and Kaiser Permanente, including the amount of money involved, are secret because, district officials say, the contract is not subject to public disclosure.
Court: Abortion Display Lawful Near School
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that pro-life advocates had a constitutional right to drive a truck displaying enlarged, graphic photographs of early-term aborted fetuses around the perimeter of a public middle school in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Minutemen Win Temporary Roadside Spot
Sonoran News.com reports that in what the San Diego Minutemen call a total victory, a federal judge has granted them a preliminary injunction requiring Caltrans to reinstate their permit to participate in its Adopt-a-Highway Program segment along I-5, and reinstall its courtesy signs, during the pendency of a lawsuit to determine whether the anti-illegal immigration group has a First Amendment right to take part in the program near the border.
Court Order Bars Recall Petitioning at Store
Newsblaze.com reports that Solano County judge Paul Beeman last week granted a preliminary injunction to Raley's, Inc. that allows the supermarket chain to ban petitioning by "Save Our Suisun," the group circulating petitions to recall three members of the city council, not only in its store, but also on the sidewalk in front and on the sides of its store in the Heritage Shopping Center in Suisun.
Warning: Bill Provides Tools for Police State
Wired magazine reports that Mark Klein, the retired AT&T engineer who stepped forward with the technical documents at the heart of the anti-wiretapping case against AT&T, is furious at the Senate's apparent intention to put an end to that lawsuit and more than 30 others with its approval of the FISA Amendments bill tomorrow. And a decision last week by the judge in one of the cases undermines one of the key rationales for telephone company immunity, reports the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Wikileaks: Just Starting to Blow Whistles
Wired magazine reports that, after 18 months of publishing government, industry and military secrets that have sparked international scandals, led to takedown threats and briefly gotten the site banned in the United States, co-founder Julian Assange says Wikileaks is just getting started changing the world.
Governor Signs New Ban on Serial Meetings
The Legislative Bulletin of the California Newspaper Publishers Association reports that Governor Schwaarzenegger last week signed SB 1732, a bill intended to revitalize the Brown Act’s prohibition against serial meetings. The signature concludes a year-and-a-half effort by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and CNPA to overturn what the Bulletin calls “a bad appellate court decision that gave members of local bodies the green light to freely discuss the public’s business with each other outside a noticed, open and public meeting so long as no agreement was reached.”
Grand Jury Faults Building Deal Secrecy
The Woodland Daily Democrat reports that repeated violations of the Brown Act involved in the negotiations to buy a former Blue Shield building for a new central office are among the complaints against the Woodland Joint Unified School District and its board of trustees in the Yolo County Grand Jury's final report, released last week; also reported—the district’s informal reply to the report, and the newspaper’s own editorial view.
Letter Seeking Resignation Questioned
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that some Baldwin Park school board members have accused the city council of overstepping its bounds with a letter calling for trustee Sergio Corona's resignation. But how the letter was approved is also an issue.
Court Denies Motion to Recuse Yolo Judges
The Sacramento Bee reports that, in the latest development stemming from the exclusion of the press and public from the arraignment of Marco Antonio Topete on a capital murder charge, Judge David Rosenberg denied a defense motion last week to exclude all the judges in Yolo Superior Court from presiding over the case. Topete's lawyer had sought to exclude the judges because the man Topete is accused of killing June 15—Yolo County sheriff's Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz—had worked as a bailiff in Woodland.
Columnist: California Lagging in Openness
Thomas Peele, writing in the Contra Costa Times, compares Florida’s and other states’ transparency leadership with the lack thereof in California, and the telling results.
Ruling for Privilege Let Stand as Precedent
The California Supreme Court has declined the request of Californians Aware and several other organizations to either take up for review or depublish (remove from case law as citable authority) an opinion of the Court of Appeal concluding that Proposition 59, the open government constitutional amendment enacted by voters in November 2004, did not eliminate a common law privilege insulating legislators from inquiry into their thought processes.
Magistrate Limits Secrecy in Prison Cases
The Associated Press reports that a federal magistrate has rejected an attempt by the Schwarzenegger administration to keep certain documents secret as courts decide whether to cap California's prison population. In pretrial motions, the administration sought to prohibit public disclosure of certain documents, including records classified as sensitive communications or part of internal deliberations.
City to Pay Fees in Successful Records Suit
The Redding Record-Searchlight reports that a Shasta County Superior Court judge has ruled that Redding must pay it $36,288 in attorney fees resulting from its successful lawsuit for records of a city hall personnel investigation. Eight employees were accused either of conducting multiple affairs during work hours on city property from early 2006 through mid-August, or exchanging excessive amounts of sexually explicit e-mail on city computers during work hours. Four were forced to resign.
LA Water/Power Chief Reveals Consumption
The Los Angeles Times reports that after urging Los Angeles residents to conserve water and energy, it turns out that H. David Nahai, general manager of the Department of Water & Power, has a lot to learn about conservation and life as a public official.
Legislative Update As Reported by CNPA
The California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Legislative Bulletin reports the status of several of the bills the association is sponsoring:
Meanwhile, AB 2917 and SB 997, opposed rather than sponsored by the publishers, have passed the Senate and Assembly Health Committees, respectively, with healthy margins. Both would make secret the investigative findings supporting state discipline or certification penalties against emergency medical technicians.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
Court: Cops Violated Rights but Needn’t Pay
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports that a federal appellate court has ruled that a Grass Valley man’s proclamation—in block letters on his 1970 Volkswagen van—that he was a terrorist carrying a weapon of mass destruction was political hyperbole protected by the First Amendment. A three judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that police officers violated the driver’s constitutional rights by arresting him, impounding the van upon which he had painted the message, an forcing him to obliterate it. But the court declined to impose liability against the officers, holding that a reasonable officer could have concluded the message was not protected under existing precedent.
Fair Board Denies Public Comment Right
The Orange County Register reports that the Orange County Fair Board may have violated state open meeting law when it denied the public the opportunity to comment before it approved a new policy on its directors’ entitlement to free tickets and other perks.
Estrich: Paparazzi Beach Issue a Tricky One
Legal commentator Susan Estrich asks,“How do you tell the difference between the paparazzi who are chasing Matthew McConaughey and what most of us would think of as ‘legitimate photojournalists’ covering a politician's love shack on the beach?”
The Reporting That Justifies Press Freedom
Marisa Guthrie, writing in Broadcasting & Cable, explains why investigative journalism—on the air but elsewhere as well—is in a struggle to keep inquiring and exposing what the public needs to know when fewer are fewer are prepared to pay for it.
Critic Faults City Attorney’s Surprise Firing
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario reports that Rialto City Council violated state law when it fired City Attorney Bob Owen during closed session of a January meeting, according to Richard McKee, President Emeritus of Californians Aware. The meeting's agenda said the council would evaluate the city attorney's performance, not that it would consider disciplining or terminating him.
Would-Be Congressman Denies Any Leak Link
The Lodi News-Sentinel reports that Republican congressional candidate Dean Andal denies that he played any part in San Joaquin Delta College trustees' alleged violation of open government laws. A recent grand jury report charges trustees with leaking to developers closed-session information about a deal to build a satellite campus.
Closed Courtroom Prompts Recusal Motion
The Sacramento Bee reports that the continued arraignment of the suspected killer of a Yolo County Sheriff's deputy was derailed Friday by a surprise defense motion to prevent all Yolo County judges from hearing the case. The motion alleges "judicial collusion" in the action by deputies who controlled courthouse security to lock the public, including the press and the suspect’s family, out of the June 18 arraignment, reserving access only to deputies and the slain officer’s surviving family.
Vote on Sunshine Panel Member Surprises
The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, by a 9-1 vote appointed to a vacancy on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force a favorite of the Board chairman with little open government experience or interest, instead of its own Rules Committee’s recommended candidate, “an attorney with experience using the Sunshine Ordinance and who other task force members had looked forward to working with.”
Board Twice Faulted for Sunshine Shortfalls
According to reports in the Tri-Valley Herald in Pleasanton and the Stockton Record, respectively, trustees of San Joaquin Delta College have been separately faulted for disregard of the open meeting laws by a grand jury report suggesting that a leak by one or more trustees to a favored developer concerning pending litigation issues discussed in closed session was a violation of the Brown Act, and a preliminary accreditation report by a team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. That document was said to include concern for ethics and open government lapses over the past seven years, including the recent extension of President Raul Rodriguez's contract though a series of illegal one-on-one meetings. Rodriguez has refused to release the accreditation report.
Watchdog: Housing Process Rebuffs Public
An activist concerned with growth standards in Los Angeles laments, in CityWatchLA, the formidable barriers to effective citizen participation erected by city staff in its meetings, hearings and public records practices.
CalTrans Freezes Highway Sponsor Program
The North County Times reports that the California Department of Transportation has suspended its Adopt-A-Highway cleanup program at a time when the San Diego Minutemen, a controversial, anti-illegal-immigration group from North County, is waging a public battle over its right to participate.
Recall Signature Gathering Blocked at Store
The LA Chronicle website reports that the Raleys grocery market chain has obtained a 30-day temporary restraining order prohibiting signature gathering near the entrances of its Suisun City store by a group seeking recall of the mayor and two city council members.
Council Renounces E-Messaging while Meeting
The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports that City Council members are shutting themselves off from the text and e-mail worlds while they’re together officially, having adopted a ban on sending, receiving and reading electronically produced messages during their weekly meetings.
Brown Act Reform Bill Headed to Governor
SB 1732, a measure designed to restrain local government bodies’ maneuvers to reach decisions outside of public meetings, is poised to go to Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk after overwhelming, bipartisan approval in both the Senate and Assembly. As explained by a committee consultant, the bill forbids a majority of the members of a city council, board of supervisors or other local legislative body from using a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate or take action on any item of business that Brown requires to be dealt with in public. But it allows agency staff to brief members in “separate conversations or communications” on any matter so long as the members do not use these contacts to violate that ban by interacting with one another using staff as intermediaries.
Paper Balloting Raises Brown Act Issue
The Monterey County Herald reports that directors of the Monterey Peninsula Airport District trimmed the list of applicants for a vacant board seat to three people by individually reviewing the eight applications and submitting each director’s top three picks to the board secretary, who used those rankings to select the finalists. The process was lawful so long as the records showing each director’s picks were open to the public, said one attorney.
LA Water Agency CEO Won’t Tell His Usage
The LAist website reports that David Nahai, CEO and general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, is both urging the public to conserve water and power and refusing to release his own home’s usage records to a journalist he accuses of harassing him.
Editorial: Police Union Wrongly Attacks Bill
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times criticizes a radio public relations campaign by the Los Angeles Police Protective League attacking a recently amended bill by Senator Gloria Romero. SB 1019 would allow local government agencies employing or reviewing the conduct of peace officers to resume the open hearing and public records practices concerning alleged officer misconduct that they used prior to a state supreme court decision two years ago forbidding such openness. The recent amendment confines the bill to a department “operating under a federal consent decree on the basis of police misconduct as of January 1, 2008,” which uniquely refers to LAPD.
Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .
a pattern of what appears to be extravagant spending by Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums at taxpayer expense, “even as he suggests shutting down City Hall for a dozen days and raising taxes,” according to KTVU-TV.
that at least 14 employees in the San Diego County Clerk's Office raised religious objections to performing gay wedding ceremonies but were told by their boss they couldn't pick and choose between marriage applicants, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Deputies Lock Press and Public out of Court
The Sacramento Bee reports and calls for investigation of the action by Yolo County Sheriff’s deputies in locking the press and most of the public out of the courthouse for the arraignment of a man suspected of murdering Deputy Tony Diaz on Father's Day. The slain man's family and dozens of sheriff's deputies were allowed into the courtroom through side entrances while the media and the accused man’s family were excluded
Windows on e-mail An article in the current Governing magazine, “Delete at Your Own Risk,” examines the phenomenon that
Millions of state and local employees in jurisdictions all over the country correspond by e-mail every day without giving much thought to what should happen to the product. They may come to regret that behavior. Not only are records, and history, being lost, but many government lawsuits now turn on what is buried in old e-mail messages.
Meanwhile the City of Palo Alto posts on its website e-mail sent to the city council concerning pending agenda items.
A Thaw in Bush Administration Secrecy? The Washington Post seems to think so. But it says much of the recent outside pressure to restore transparency is to keep Bush’s successors from exploiting the anti-disclosure policies his people instituted. It quotes Steven Aftergood, who heads the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists: "Once a precedent is set and an administration not sufficiently rebuked, this kind of secrecy becomes a permanent option.” Meanwhile reports suggest that the Administration is already moving to rewrite an important provision of the new Freedom of Information Act amendments.
Taxpayer Witness Ousted from Capitol The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights reports that a witness whom it had arranged to come from Massachusetts to testify against mandatory health insurance legislation not only saw the hearing he planned to appear in canceled, but was banished from the Capitol rotunda when attempting to give an impromptu news conference. The order reportedly came from Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, sponsor of the insurance bill.
March 7 Student Speech Forum From wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War to displaying a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner, generations of American students have tested the scope of First Amendment free-speech protections. These rights will be the focus of a daylong symposium on Friday, March 7, "From the Schoolhouse Gate to the Courthouse Steps," sponsored by the UC Davis Law Review. Speakers will include Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean (despite his own liberal speech reputation) of UC Irvine's new Donald Bren School of Law; Kenneth Starr, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law; and eight others. More information here.
Renters’ Sign Rights Declared The Davis Enterprise reports that the city council has passed an ordinance regarding political sign regulation that effectively guarantees a renter's right to speech free of landlord control. Renters now have the right to post signs in support of their preferred candidates in upcoming elections, including the February 5 presidential primary as well as the June 3 city council elections.
CSU’s Civility Rules Revisited The San Diego Union-Triune reports that California State University trustees would consider a revision to a section of the student conduct code that includes an expectation that students be “civil.” The change would establish that disciplinary action for “uncivil” expression is not allowed. A federal district court, in a case involving punishment of student demonstrators who stomped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags bearing the Arabic word “Allah,” recently ruled that the term “uncivil” is too broad to be a basis for discipline at public colleges and universities.
Unlawful Spontaneity, Incident 1 District Attorney Steve Cooley’s office has concluded that the seven-member Los Angeles Airport Commission violated the Ralph M. Brown Act on December 17 by extensively 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. Cooley’s Public Integrity Unit will take no further action on the matter, since its investigations and published conclusions and admonitions (around 30 last year) achieve “a 99.9 percent compliance rate through some sort of remediation," according to Deputy D.A. Jennifer Lentz Snyder.
Unlawful Spontaneity, Incident 2 Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten’s office has concluded that the Conejo Valley Unified School District Board violated the Brown Act eight months ago when, with no notice on the meeting agenda and no opportunity for public comment provided, four of the five trustees voted to censure the fifth for allegedly contacting school employees and demanding information in a manner suggesting he had some personal authority concerning school closures. Trustee Mike Dunn is now demanding a public apology from his colleagues.
Questioned Spontaneity The Orange County Register reports that Capistrano Unified School District officials will ask the school board next week to rescind its December vote on certain construction projects for a newly opened high school after a parents group already targeting two of the trustees for recall alleged the vote violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by approving contracts not listed on the meeting agenda. The four accused of violating the law avoided a Brown Act criminal prosecution last October by publicly committing themselves “to cease such violations in the future."
Getting to Know You The Desert Dispatch reports that a consulting firm hired last October by the City of Barstow, when it treated the council to a private, out-of-town dinner a month earlier, discussed no business that would have required the council to announce the event as a special meeting and open it to the public. The redevelopment director was also present, but not the city attorney, who nonetheless seemed to defend the dinner as a “purely social” occasion exempt from the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Closed Session on Letter Approval Challenged The Orange County Register reports that the Anaheim City Council may have violated the Brown Act by discussing and approving, in a closed session listed as dealing with litigation, letters sent to the Orange County Water District objecting to its plans to use eminent domain to buy the site of a closed Boeing plant for a water percolation basin, instead of a new business center, as the council prefers.
Closed Session on Salary Approval Challenged The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board decided to re-do (publicly) a decision reached in closed session January 2 to outline its superintendent search and set a $180,000 salary offer to be advertised along with the job.
Columnist: No Petty Punishment A columnist argues against requiring a competing newspaper uniquely to submit inquiries to city staff and council in writing as an instance of unconstitutional discrimination. The City of Temecula has since dropped the proposal.
What’s the Skinny on Your ZIP? Or on any other, for that matter? Get a quick statistical profile on the single/married/divorced ratio, age, income bracket, educational attainment and other characteristics of your own or other areas pinpointed by ZIP code, based on the 2000 census, at ZIPskinny.com.
What’s the Skinny on Your School? Or on any other, for that matter? Get a quick statistical profile on the resources and performance of your local schools or any others in the state from two sources: the California SCHOOLFINDER, an offering of the State Department of Education that allows side-by-side comparisons, and a similar statistical set offered by the department as the School Accountability Report Card, a copy of which every school with a website is supposed to post there also. The first site, with higher-end design and the Governor’s stamp all over it, is in beta phase, and so far allows searching by anything other than school name only with the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser and therefore not, for example, by Mac users.
More Disclosures on Substance-abusing Doctors The San Francisco Chronicle reports that state physician-licensing officials are saying that California patients could soon find it easier to learn if doctors are facing discipline over accusations they practiced while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
More Disclosures of Gifts to Officials The Los Angeles Times reports that the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's political watchdog agency, is drafting tougher disclosure rules for gifts accepted by elected officials and could ban many of them altogether for statewide office-holders.
Public Records Released Disclose . . .
• allegations that Redding’s former assistant city manager who resigned in September after admitting to an affair at City Hall had earlier lied to investigators about the indiscretion and told others involved to destroy evidence.
• that San Diego City Council president Scott Peters, compared with the water use of the average city resident of 125,644 gallons in 2007, consumed 1,027,752 gallons.
• that Monterey County paid at least $435,000 for attorneys it hired to help with federal voting-rights lawsuits over two controversial land-use ballot measures that eventually went before voters last June. But the Open Monterey Project, which sought this and other lawsuit spending records, is maintaining its demand before the California Court of Appeal, hoping to settle a legal point resolved against it last summer; a superior court judge agreed with the county that the California Public Records Act does not require disclosure of how much a pending case is costing a public agency until the litigation is over.
State of Denial In September Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1393, which would have convened a one-year study into what kind and degree of information held by the state on public matters should be made readily available on the Internet. With respect to this provision the veto message stated, “Such a task force and such additional statutory changes are also unnecessary. My Administration's commitment to the Public Records Act is unwavering and I am confident future Administrations will share this attitude.” Now the Stockton Record notes a report from a Washington, D.C. think tank ranking states “on how well Internet users can access information about lobbying efforts, contracting and subsidies within their states. California ranks down with Louisiana and Mississippi.” Lobbying information on line here is pretty good, but the contract award information requires the viewer to create a spreadsheet to make much sense of the data, and, says the Record,
It's in the subsidy area where California fails, according to the report. No information about tax breaks such as those in enterprise zones or conservation easements—both widely used in San Joaquin County—is available on the Internet.
Mystery Travel Sponsors The Sacramento Bee reports that an obscure nonprofit that funds the governor's worldwide travels has abandoned – at least temporarily – its long-standing practice of hiding the identities of its donors.
Presidential Records CalAware and dozens of national organizations have sent a letter asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid essentially to ignore the hold a single Republican Senator has placed on a bill to repeal President Bush’s executive order taking ex-presidents’ papers off the public record, and bring that bill to the Senate Floor. So far no result, but meanwhile the White House has decided not to appeal a judge’s decision partly invalidating the executive order.
Who Leaked? Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor convicted of bribing former San Diego Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was denied a fair trial because of a prejudicial leak from the grand jury revealing that he was likely to be indicted. That’s the theory of Wilkes’ imaginative defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, who’s asked a federal judge to subpoena the journalists who printed the indictment prediction, to find out who leaked it to them. The judge at first rejected the request but then was said to be reconsidering. If the judge were to issue the subpoenas, the journalists in question could be in the same kind of bind as two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, who nearly went to jail for refusing to name their source for information from a federal grand jury looking into the BALCO sports steroids allegations. The only thing that saved them was their source’s voluntary identification as such early this year. Subpoenas issued in the Wilkes case could also rekindle support for a federal shield law for journalists; that legislation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate but has raised at least some objections from journalists on principle and others as more trouble than it’s worth.
Backing Out of Court A union local at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has dropped a lawsuit against the Daily News and agreed to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees. The suit, asserting personal privacy interests, attempted to force the paper to remove from its website the salaries, identified by name and position, of more than 8,000 DWP workers. The suit was dismissed on an anti-SLAPP motion that noted in part that public employees’ compensation is presumed to be a matter of public record.
Prices Slashed Los Gatos is the latest in a succession of cities whose police departments have greatly reduced the fees they charge victims and others needing copies of crime or accident reports for insurance purposes. No one seems to deny that what prompts these cutbacks is CalAware’s most recent audit of law enforcement public information practices, which exposed a goodly number of departments charging many times the direct cost of copying for these and other frequently requested documents (tape recordings and photos), apparently on the suggestion of consultants recommending that they maximize their revenue.
School District Sued The Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror, published by CalAware board member Tim Crews, is suing the Chico Unified School District for records concerning the demotion of a controversial junior high school principal several years ago.
Hot Topic Newspaper editors: Want to start a frenzy of online comments to a news story? Write about the paper’s efforts to get e-mails and other records concerning a scandal in which so far one clerical employee has been fired, another forced to resign and four others disciplined after an internal investigation into extramarital affairs at city hall. See the many but mixed reactions.
D.A. Opposing Disclosure Santa Clara County’s District Attorney is siding with the San Jose Police Department in rejecting a proposed sunshine ordinance provision that would allow limited public access to the investigative files of closed criminal cases. The argument seems to be that a D.A. is a state official charged with enforcing statewide laws, and how she does so (including the use of police investigations) would be hampered by greater public scrutiny, and thus local policy-makers like city councils cannot direct their police departments to be more open.
Cops Cry Foul CalAware’s recent audit on Public Records Act compliance and customer service was unfair to the San Jose Police Department, a spokesperson told a city committee, in part because the department never received its written request. CalAware scored the department with a D for legal compliance and a B for customer service in the second visit in October, up from a combined F a year ago. The auditor’s detailed report shows several problems with how he was treated.
Records Released Reveal . . .
A newspaper, to its pique, finding that the Mayor’s month-old calendar fails to list his visit to its editorial offices; the U.C. sywstem hierarchy all abuzz about how to manage public impressions of President Robert Dynes’ resignation, and how to justify continuing his pay for a terminal year of greatly reduced responsibilities; and a board member of the California’s stem cell research support agency improperly lobbying the agency staff to give a grant to a scientist at his own La Jolla research institute.
Punt to the A.G. Is the extension of a $1.75 million loan to a merchant by a redevelopment agency a matter that should be approved in a closed session ostensibly concerning real property negotiations? That issue will now be referred to the California Attorney General for an opinion, by agreement of the Covina Redevelopment Agency and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, which had taken the RDA to court on the matter but dismissed the action recently.
What’s So Special? An Encinitas City Council member has ended her boycott of closed sessions but continues to protest the council’s practice of treating those on pending litigation as special meetings, although held routinely an hour or so before the weekly regular meetings, thus cutting the notice period from 72 to 24 hours. That maneuver is apparently for the convenience of the contract city attorney, who is not full-time.
Bait and Switch? A Bakersfield couple may sue the Kern High School District for introducing and adopting a novel proposal at a meeting when members of the public had come expecting to argue for or against a different proposal. Both proposals involved hanging a poster with the words “In God we trust” in every classroom.
March on Your Own The nongovernmental organizers of a Veterans Day parade in Long Beach excluded an antiwar vets’ group from its ranks.
The Stamp Act Students at Fresno City College complain that they have to get an official stamp of approval on leaflets to be distributed on campus.
Records Released Reveal . . .
State officials’ explanations about aircraft unavailable to fight the Southern California wildfires did not always match the facts; how Pasadena City Council members use e-mail sent to and from their new city-bought computers during council meetings.
Browse council from home Union City residents (or anyone else who cares) will soon be able to get a live webcast of city council and planning commission meetings, or search an archive and play the video of a past meeting.
The taxpayers’ tab San Bernardino County Supervisors sometimes refuse to disclose whom they met for meals and drinks charged to their county credit cards, or why. More.
Gone with the draft After prodding the Gilroy City Council approved release of the most recent drafts of a consultant’s report on police services—but two earlier drafts have disappeared.
Stem cell agency at 3 On its third birthday, says an observer, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s penchant for closed-door grant reviews and secrecy still screens much of the institute's most important decisions from public view.
CSU Foundation’s perk loans California State University President Alexander Gonzalez got generous loans from a campus-related foundation that insists it’s a private corporation and won’t disclose where the money came from.
A cloudy sunshine record An Associated Press report shows Governor Schwarzenegger opposing open government reform as often as not despite his campaign pledge for transparency.
Latex limit The editors of California State University, Fullerton’s Daily Titan are upset because the university will not allow them to distribute condoms in the November 14 issue.
Gagging students A federal magistrate finds unconstitutional the use of a campus speech code to pursue students who stomped on a Muslim flag during a demonstration.
Records Released Reveal . . .
Who said what to UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake to get him to rescind—or then renew—his invitation to a “controversial” constitutional scholar to head the campus’s new law school; the San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plan to offer a power plant funds and help to find a new location.
No need for comment The Santa Clara County DA finds no Brown Act violation in the denial of public comment on a matter that had been dealt with at two prior Los Gatos Planning Commission meetings.
An “innocent” violation The Riverside County DA finds that an e-mail discussion among three of county supervisors was not a deliberate breach of the Brown Act and was cured by a later open discussion.
Sealed justice study UCLA Law School and the Rand Corporation have launched a joint venture to study secrecy in the nation's civil justice system.
Secret evidence Prosecutors will be permitted to secretly present certain recorded surveillance data to a jury in the forthcoming trial of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who are accused of leaking classified information.