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Vice President and Executive Director
Emelyn C. Rodriguez, a Sacramento attorney practicing in the law of politics and political reform, is vice president and executive director of Californians Aware. Ms. Rodriguez has been a member of CalAware’s board of directors for the past nine years, most recently as its secretary/treasurer. She previously served for 13 years as Senior Commission Counsel with the Fair Political Practices Commission, where she specialized in conflicts of interest rules under the Political Reform Act and Government Code section 1090, the California Public Records Act and open meetings laws, lobbying rules, and campaign finance laws.
As a senior legal division counsel, she authored the state’s electronic campaign advertising regulations, among the first of their kind in the country. She headed the agency’s first major revamping of lobbying rules in 25 years, and closed loopholes involving political legal defense funds. She also interpreted, analyzed and drafted regulations and legislation. Prior to her legal career, Ms. Rodriguez was the Oakland Tribune’s capitol bureau chief, where she provided and coordinated state news coverage of the Governor’s office, the state Legislature, and statewide public policy issues for six San Francisco Bay Area daily newspapers. She also reported for the Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and was senior editor for the California Journal, the state’s political magazine. Tim Crews, president of CalAware in 2018, spoke for the board in welcoming Ms. Rodriguez to the position, calling her “the ideal choice to lead, inform and inspire our continuing fight for government at the state and local level that is both open and ethical.”
Mr. Laidman is an associate at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, where he focuses his practice on media and First Amendment litigation matters, including public records and courtroom access, newsgathering, prior restraint, defamation, privacy, and copyright issues. Prior to practicing law, Dan worked as a reporter for news outlets including the Monterey Herald, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Daily News, and Copley News Service. His representative experience includes:
Vice President/Open Government Compliance
Ms. Aviles, daughter of the late renowned open government activist Richard P. McKee, is an attorney who specializes in the California Public Records Act, the Ralph M. Brown Act, and the Bagley-Keene Act, and serves as litigation counsel for Californians Aware. She attended the University of La Verne College of Law, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2006. She has successfully assisted numerous clients in obtaining legal orders interpreting California’s open government laws and securing the release of important government records.
In 2012, she successfully represented Californians Aware when it teamed up with the Los Angeles Times to force the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission to comply with the Brown Act and turn over wrongfully withheld public records. In 2010, she won a case against California State University Stanislaus, obtaining an order requiring the University to disclose its foundation’s speaking appearance contract with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Ms. Aviles has also served as outside counsel for the San Diego County Water Authority, successfully litigating two high profile public records cases against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Eastern Municipal Water District.
Ms. Frye served as a member of the San Diego City Council from 2001 through 2010. During her tenure, she distinguished herself as an independent thinker who fought continuously for an open and honest government accountable to the public. Councilmember Frye used her leadership skills to open the doors of government, and in 2004, she boycotted closed session meetings until the mayor and council agreed to change the permanent rules of council.
She met with Terry Francke, and this collaboration resulted in a reform of the rules that included requiring that a transcriptionist take minutes in all closed session meetings and ensuring that the public could testify on any closed session item. Continuing her quest for an honest and accountable government, Frye created the Government Efficiency and Openness Committee. As its first chair, she accomplished a number of open government reforms in less than a year, and continuing her work with Francke, rallied public consensus around a tough open-government City Charter ballot measure that passed with over 80 percent of the vote.
Ms. Frye’s advocacy on behalf of the public and its right to know what its government is doing began more than 20 years ago. Prior to her election, she was best known for her environmental activism and her commitment to clean water. She founded Surfers Tired of Pollution, which helped initiate efforts to establish uniform statewide water monitoring standards and require the posting of warning signs in front of discharging storm drains to warn the public about the pollution. Ms. Frye received the 2011 Sunshine Award from the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, and was elected to serve as CalAware’s president in 2013.
J.W. August’s 36-year journalism career has included stints as a stringer for wire services, as a reporter for community newspapers, as an assignment editor, producer and managing editor in broadcasting. Among his honors, the National Society of Professional Journalists awarded him its “Sunshine Award” for efforts on behalf of open government. The Freedom Foundation recognized his reporting on hate groups operating in San Diego County. He received the National Press Club award for consumer reporting on a religious based charity fraud and the Investigative Reporters and Editors certificate for outstanding investigative reporting on illegal waste dumping.
August has won 33 Emmys for investigative reporting, writing, and journalistic enterprise. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences also recognized him for his career in broadcasting. The San Diego Press Club recognized him with two lifetime achievement awards, one as a reporter/producer and one as news manager. The California Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, The San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the City of San Diego have each honored August. He was named Citizen Diplomat of the Year by the Diplomacy Council for his willingness to work with journalists and policy makers from around the world on shared subjects of concern.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office recognized August for his efforts in exposing fraud, he received the public service award from the National Highway Traffic Administration for series of stories on safety issues and San Diego advocacy groups have recognized his reporting efforts on vulnerable populations including the Environmental Health Coalition and San Diego Hunger Coalition. August is past president and current board member of the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists. He’s also president of a non-profit combating sex and labor trafficking, the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition and is president emeritus of CalAware (Californians Aware) which advocates for transparency and open government in California.
Mr. Crews is editor and publisher of the twice-weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror, which the California Press Association has called “California’s most courageous newspaper.” His unmatched readiness as a journalist to go to court to keep local government meetings and records open to the public is of a piece with the substance and success of his reporting, winning him the Freedom of Information Award in three annual contests conducted by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He is the only living journalist in the state known to have served jail time for refusing to name a source of published information subpoenaed in a criminal prosecution. For this act of principled refusal, coupled with his activism for governmental transparency generally, he has received:
Mr. Crews has had his office burgled, his building set afire, his car’s brakes and wheels weakened to the point of failure and his dog poisoned. His impatience with the pace and incompleteness of response to a public records request led him to be charged with “frivolous” litigation by a local judge and ordered to pay a public agency’s attorney’s fees. That punitive burden would have ended his publishing career but was rejected by the California Court of Appeal in 2013, in a decision protecting aggressive use of the courts to keep government open in the public interest.
Ms. Biggs is a partner in the law firm of Aleshire & Wynder, LLP. She is the designated City Attorney for the City of Menifee and also provides expert representation to virtually all other clients of the firm in the areas of general municipal law, land use, election, healthcare and Public Records Act issues. Ms. Biggs has special expertise in the complex process of incorporating new cities. She has represented the proponents of incorporation in their successful effort to create the Cities of Laguna Woods in 1999, Goleta in 2002 and Wildomar in 2008.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Biggs has represented numerous public agencies and municipalities in Southern California and in Colorado, including the cities of Wildomar, Goleta, Banning, Hemet and Colton as city cttorney, as well as Fontana, Corona, Redlands and Elk Grove as special counsel. Ms. Biggs has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Redlands Whitehead Center where she taught courses in environmental law and at the University of California at Riverside where she taught courses in the Public Records Act. Ms. Biggs was also invited to participate as a panelist in the State Bar of California’s Open Meeting and Public Records Act conferences in 2013 and 2014.
With extensive legal experience practicing within the Offices of the Public Defender in both Sacramento and Yolo Counties—as well as many years working in offices throughout the California State Legislature—Heather Hopkins continues to prioritize her commitment to open government, accountable institutions and public discourse. Ms. Hopkins received a B.A. in political science from the University of California – Davis and a J.D. from the University of California – Davis School of Law.
She has distinguished herself with her legislative acumen in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, as well as in the offices of Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-Hayward), Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Ms. Hopkins has additionally staffed diverse legislative areas, including privacy, judiciary and public safety. While working with Senator Leno, she also worked directly on the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) and SB 1286 to enhance public access to information and ensure accountability. Ms. Hopkins currently serves as a Principal Consultant in the office of Senator Bill Dodd.
Toni Momberger was elected to the Redlands City Council after serving almost five years as editor of the Redlands Daily Facts, crowning a journalism career in the Inland Empire that began in 1998. Ms. Momberger was named Journalist of the Year not long ago in its small daily newspapers division by Digital First Media, formerly MediaNews Group, a Denver-based conglomerate managing newsrooms throughout California as well as in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. The group executive nominating Ms. Momberger for the award cited several “examples of her day-in, day-out contributions:
Tim Crews, then president of Californians Aware, said the board of directors had no hesitation in unanimously voting Ms. Momberger to join them. “We deliberately seek out a mix of journalists, community activists and public officials to guide us with their insights. Toni covers all the bases.”
Norberto Santana, Jr. is an award-winning investigative journalist with nearly two decades reporting experience, most recently engaging Orange County government institutions and decision makers as the founding publisher of the nonprofit digital newsroom, Voice of OC. As publisher, Santana oversees all newsroom, engagement and fundraising operations and also writes a weekly opinion column about Orange County government. In 2017 and 2018, the Orange County Press Club recognized Santana as Orange County’s best columnist. Before founding Voice of OC in 2009, Santana was a lead investigative reporter for the Orange County Register from 2004-2009, focusing on county government. He’s spent nearly two decades just focusing on local governments across Southern California, previously as a staff writer with outlets such as the San Diego Union Tribune and the San Bernardino County Sun.
Santana began his journalistic career in the early 1990s as an apprentice reporter with Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C. covering daily floor action in the U.S. Congress and followed that up with a stint covering the territorial Senate for the U.S. Virgin Islands Daily News. In addition to his experience as a journalist, the Southern California native has a master’s degree in Latin American Studies, has worked as an elections analyst on National Endowment for Democracy programs across Latin America, and was one of the founders of CubaNet.org, a website featuring the work of dissident journalists inside Cuba that has operated since 1995.
Terry Francke has a 37-year history of helping journalists, citizens and public officials understand and use their First Amendment and open government rights. With CalAware, Francke has authored comprehensive and authoritative guidebooks to California law on access to government meetings and public records and the news gathering and publication rights of journalists. Focusing on these issues in public forum law, he supervises CalAware’s legislative and litigation initiatives; conducts workshops on legal compliance; helps design public records audits; supports local sunshine ordinance drafting efforts; writes CalAware Today, a blog on current developments and proposals in the law and best practices; and answers countless queries by phone and e-mail from citizens, journalists, public officials and employees, and lawyers.
Francke previously served 14 years as executive director and general counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has served as an advisory panel member to the National Center on Courts and the Media; taught journalism law at the Department of Communication at Stanford University; and served as an expert contributor to the 1994 major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act and the 2004 ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution. Francke is a 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. Prior to his legal career, Francke worked as a weekly newspaper editor and in military and local government public affairs positions.