Month: January 2012

Juvenile Court Opens Dependency Hearings to Media

Los Angeles Juvenile Court hearings dealing with dependent children, parental fitness and foster care are being opened to attendance by the press but not the public, unless good reason is shown why they should not be, reports Garrett Thierolf in the Los Angeles Times. The premise: a secret court system perpetuates problems in child protective services and leaves responsible adults largely unaccountable. Los Angeles County Juvenile Court will be opened to media coverage regularly, with certain exceptions intended to protect the interests of children, under an order issued Tuesday by the court’s presiding judge. Judge Michael Nash said he wanted to open the proceedings because secrecy had allowed problems to fester outside of the public’s view. Without access to the courts, news organizations have been forced to rely on incomplete case records released months or years after decisions were made. Nash’s ruling applies to the dependency side of Juvenile Court, which largely means child abuse, foster care and adoption proceedings. The order does not apply to the delinquency side, which handles crimes committed by children. Under state law, Juvenile Court judges have always been able to open a proceeding if a news organization makes a persuasive argument for it. But the media virtually never prevail. Nash’s order shifts the burden of proof from news organizations to the parties involved in the proceedings. A Juvenile Court proceeding will now be...

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Court: No Brown Act Violation by Two-Hat Council

The California Court of Appeal has declined requests to publish its recent opinion concluding that the Brown Act was not violated by the Montebello City Council in denying public comment before holding a closed session with itself as the Montebello Redevelopment Agency board, since later, before holding a closed session in its role as that board, it did allow prior public comment. If you didn’t follow that, you can read the court’s opinion and see if it’s any clearer (or any weirder), and console yourself that it looks like city councils won’t be wearing these two hats much longer. In view of that fact, it’s hard to imagine that the California Supreme Court, which still has the power to order the opinion published, will do so. Kenneth Ofgang reported the details in the Metropolitan...

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High Court: Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve—But Not Here

You can wear the F-word on your back in your local courthouse’s corridors, the U.S. Supreme Court says, but in its own hushed lobby you can’t wear the words “Occupy Everywhere,” as a hapless visitor recently discovered.  Andrew F. Sellars reports for the Citizen Media Law Project. Say you’re in law school, and your professor gives you the following hypothetical: It’s 1968. A man named Paul Robert Cohen is in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, in a public corridor. On Cohen is a jacket, and on the jacket are the words “Fuck the Draft.” He takes the jacket off as he walks into the courtroom, but puts it back on when he’s in the corridor again. When he does so the courthouse police arrest him and charge him with disturbing the peace. Cohen challenges the arrest as a violation of his First Amendment rights. “How should the court rule?” your professor asks. If you are especially studious you’ll respond like this: The conviction for disturbing the peace clearly rests upon the speech that Cohen is conveying. He cannot be punished for his speech, as it does not fit into one of the narrow categories where we allow punishment of speech for its content (such as obscenity or defamation). The only way California can sustain its conviction is if they can show that limiting Cohen’s word choice is actually a...

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"Bell" Tolls for Hard-to-Reach Meeting Agendas, Pay Talks

Thanks to the City of Bell kleptocracy scandal, local government bodies subject to the Brown Act must now post their agendas on the agency’s website, if there is one, unless they are advisory committees with no members who also sit on the governing body of the agency, and none of their members are compensated for attendance. The posting has the same advance timing as in the non-digital world: 72 hours out for regular meetings and 24 for special meetings. Also under AB 1344, effective January 1, special meetings may no longer be used for discussion or action on the compensation, including benefits, of the agency’s unrepresented (non-union) managerial talent, including both the chief executive and department...

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CalAware Sues San Diego Supervisors for Surprise Actions

Californians Aware has filed suit against the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, challenging its decision at a meeting last month as a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law for local government.  The petition, filed today in San Diego County Superior Court, cites the Board’s immediate approval of a slate of recommendations from an advisory committee on cutting red tape in development approvals. The staff-written posted meeting agenda recommended only accepting the report and directing staff to give further study to unspecified proposals, but a staff list distributed to the Board but not the public at the meeting highlighted a number of proposals for immediate action—which the Board approved, to the surprise of both observers in the audience and others who did not attend the meeting, reading the agenda to mean no action would be taken. The CalAware suit seeks court nullification of those approvals, a declaration that the hidden agenda approach violated the Brown Act, and an order to the Board to cease the practice in the future. The litigation was prompted by the Board’s rejection of CalAware’s demand for cure and correction, which read as follows. Californians Aware demands that the Board cure and correct a substantial violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, namely the peremptory approval of a number of proposals in the report of the “Red Tape Reduction...

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