Month: April 2008

Public Forum Law Week in Review: 4/25/08

(CalAware Weekly comprises this plus the two previous posts) Open Government Columnist: Openness Key Issue in Supervisor Race      Los Angeles City Beat  columnist Alan Mittelstaedt says that if  Los Angeles County supervisorial contenders Bernard Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas “intend to run on a business-as-usual platform, with one favoring business and the other labor ever so slightly, they both deserve to lose. The battle should be about open government and who is committed to doing the people’s work in full view of, well, the people. . . The current supervisors, even the best ones . . . too often agree to do the people’s business in secret away from the people.” Code of Silence Led to Orange County Jail Scandal      The Orange County Register reports that grand jury documents released this month in connection with the beating death of a jail inmate show the arrogance that kept a wall of secrecy firmly in place around the Sheriff’s Department—“a wall that eventually crumbled under its own weight.”Public Information Council Mum on City Manager’s Mystery Exit     The Press-Enterprise in Riverside reports that some residents are outraged and demanding an investigation of the Hemet City Council’s continued refusal to explain reasons for the recent departure of former City Manager John Davidson after just 16 months in the job, at a total cost to the city of more than...

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Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has just released a summary of the four bills he is now carrying that support free speech and open government. This array turns out to be remarkably solicitous for what we at Californians Aware refer to as public forum rights, to which we are dedicated, namely “people’s rights to find out what citizens need to know to be truly self-governing, and to share what they know and believe without fear or loss.”  In recent years the senator, who has earned the right to be thought of as ‘Senator Sunshine’ if that title wouldn’t embarrass him, has carried other measures to keep the public informed of the workings of government while protecting speech and press. In 2005-06 his AB 775 would have would have required discussion of, and action on, a proposed pay raise or other benefit package for the highest-ranking University of California system or campus officers to occur in open session of the appropriate committee, and that any final discussion or action on the proposal take place in open session of the board of regents. The bill was sidelined in its final committee hearing, supposedly because of its projected implementation costs. A more successful bill in that session was AB 2581, which added public college and university administrators to the list of those prohibited from disciplining students for publishing or speaking that would...

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When Court-Approved Secrecy Can Kill You

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) described the problem well in his testimony last December 11 before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights: Far too often, court-approved secrecy agreements hide vital public health and safety information from the American public, putting lives at stake. The secrecy agreements even prevent government officials or consumer group from learning about and protecting the public from defective and dangerous products.     The following example demonstrates how this issue arises and the devastating implications secret settlements can indeed have. Back in 1996, a 7-year-old boy in Washington State took an over-the-counter medicine to treat an ear infection. Within hours, he suffered a stroke, fell into a coma, and he died 3 years later. The child’s mother sued the drug manufacturer, alleging their product caused the stroke.     Unknown to the mother and to the public, many similar lawsuits alleging harm caused by this very same medicine had been secretly settled. It was not until the year 2000 that the FDA banned an ingredient found in the boy’s medicine. If it were not for this court secrecy in the previous lawsuits, the boy’s mother may well have known about the risks.     While this case is tragic, it is not unique. In these types of cases, the defendant requires the victim to agree to secrecy about all information...

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Public Forum Law Week in Review: 4/18/08

(CalAware Weekly comprises this plus the three previous posts) Open Government Editorial: Cop Unions’ Clout Accounts for Secrecy      The North County Times comments on the fact that one month later, the public knows more about a woman shot in a March 15 incident in Oceanside than it does about her self-confessed shooter, a police officer. After Lawsuit, County OKs Public Records Training     The Willows Journal reports that the Glenn County Board of Supervisors has agreed to have top-level county personnel trained on handing public record requests following the third lawsuit this year by newspaper publisher Tim Crews—this time for refusing access to a death certificate. Bill Barring Private Vetoes of Public Access Advances      California Chronicle reports that on a 33-1 bipartisan vote, the California Senate has approved legislation that would prohibit a state or local agency from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of information, including but not limited to an audit report, that is otherwise subject to the state´s Public Records Act. Public Information Assembly Won’t Release Golden Handshake Data     The Sacramento Bee reports that in the wake of claims that taxpayers could be ripped off by golden handshakes offered by the Assembly, the lower house refuses to release any financial projections or analysis of the offer it made last month to sweeten pensions of up to 222 aides...

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Sunshine Amendment Eclipsed

The California Court of Appeal has just published an opinion 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.  The issue was raised when a cardroom, suing the city of San Jose to invalidate an ordinance which the proprietor claimed created illegal burdens on its operation, alleged that the city council’s motive was to ruin its business.  To try to prove this intent it made a discovery demand for a wide variety of documents in the paper trail of the ordinance’s adoption.  The city sought and obtained a protective order allowing it to withhold some of the documents, citing what the Sixth District Court of Appeal in its just published opinion in Sutter’s Place v. Superior Court (City of San Jose), called “the mental processes principle (precluding judicial inquiry into the motivation or mental processes of legislators in enacting legislation).”  The cardroom’s appeal argued that Proposition 59 had in effect repealed this principle because it preserved in force only statutory and constitutional limits on access to information (not common law limits), and because there was an intent to abolish the deliberative process privilege, a related common law limit on access to information, as shown in the proposition’s ballot argument favoring public understanding of the deliberative process. While there...

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