The local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has announced that Mel Shapiro of San Diego, one of California’s most remarkable transparency watchdogs—neither a journalist, a lawyer nor a politician—has died at age 90. Among many accomplishments in a lifetime of civic engagement, he waged two court battles enforcing the Brown Act’s open meeting mandate that became published precedents, checking the expansive use of closed sessions by local government bodies.
• In Shapiro v. City Council of San Diego, 96 Cal.App.4th 904 (2002) the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that the Council had violated the Brown Act by including discussion of a wide variety of “related” but not confidential issues in a series of closed sessions held to consult with its agent in real property negotiations concerning a large redevelopment project to create a new baseball park.
• The Attorney General opined in 1984 that while in general a body may not use a closed session to discuss cases to which it is not and would not be a party, the governing body of the agency may not be the only legislative body entitled to a closed session. For example, a county’s airport advisory committee—not just the board of supervisors—might hold a closed session with its attorney to discuss litigation involving the county airport. 67 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 111 (1984). But in Shapiro v. Board of Directors of Centre City Development Corporation, 134 Cal. App. 4th 170 (2005), the Court of Appeal concluded that that opinion was obsolete, and held to the contrary.
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