May 24, 2011 — You have heard us defend the Brown Act on more than one occasion in these pages. That’s because it is among the most powerful tools the public has to hold government officials accountable.
That is why Feather Publishing has joined more than 90 other newspapers, led by the First Amendment Coalition (FAC), in filing an amicus brief last week in an appeal of a Brown Act lawsuit involving the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The suit challenges the supervisors’ practice of holding lunchtime meetings — regularly and often — that were nonpublic and held without notification to the public or media.
The plaintiffs — the late Rich McKee, the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) and the Visalia Times-Delta — argued that the lunches, which were charged to the county government and attended by a county lawyer, were “meetings” regulated by the Brown Act, which generally requires that meetings be publicly held and conducted according to an agenda that is made public in advance. The Superior Court disagreed and dismissed the suit. The appeal is from that dismissal.
It is highly unusual for so many amici curiae —literally, “friends of the court” — to sign an amicus brief. The FAC brief was signed by newspapers ranging from the state’s biggest dailies (Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee) to its smallest weekly newspapers (like Feather Publishing), as well as news wires, out-of-state media associations and national media/First Amendment organizations.
Amici were attracted by concern about enforcing the Brown Act as well as the opportunity to honor open-government advocate Rich McKee, who passed away last week. “The First Amendment Coalition is proud to be lead amicus on this excellent brief,” FAC Executive Director Peter Scheer said last Thursday.
Jim Ewert, general counsel for CNPA, said, “It is rare that CNPA is a party to a lawsuit but when Rich and Amy Pack at the Visalia Times-Delta decided to pursue litigation to challenge the supervisors’ brazen lunch meetings it was immediately evident that the outcome would have significant impact statewide.”
He continued, “I would like to leave you with one thought. If the trial court’s decision is allowed to stand, it will eviscerate the hallmark tenet of the Brown Act: That public officials must take their actions openly and that their deliberations must be conducted openly.”
We will keep you informed as this important lawsuit progresses.
|< Prev||Next >|