Public Forum Law Week in Review: 11/3/08

6a00e54efd607c883300e554b4e5ab8834-120wi-1
Free Speech

The Official Advice on Cameras at the Polls
An Elections Division chief in the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, while unable to point to a law expressly banning photography at or within polling places, is advising county elections officials that her office “has historically taken the position that the use of cameras or video equipment at polling places is prohibited, though there may be circumstances where election officials could permit such use.” The example given is a press photo of a politician casting a ballot, “provided you ensure such activity does not interfere with voting, is not intimidating to any voters or election workers, and that the privacy of voters is not compromised.”

Trespass Law Amended to Protect Protesters
The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Berkeley City Council has rewritten its trespass ordinance to stop UC-Berkeley police from using it to arrest demonstrators on campus. The move came after two demonstrators arrested in separate incidents sued the city, saying its trespass law was being improperly applied by campus police.

Leafleters Arrested on College Campus
The Life Legal Defense Foundation reports that three college-age members of an anti-abortion evangelical group were arrested and jailed nearly 12 hours recently after their group refused to desist in carrying signs, handing out leaflets and engaging in conversation with students on the College of Alameda Campus.

Judge: Firefighters Suffered No Speech Injury
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that San Diego city officials did not violate the free-speech rights of four firefighters when they were ordered to attend last year's gay pride parade in Hillcrest.  The four claimed they were subjected to sexually charged behavior and lewd comments while riding a fire engine in the July 2007 parade.

Open Government

Watchdog’s Wish List Includes Transparency
GovernmentExecutive.com reports that the next presidential administration should focus on making the government operate more effectively and with greater accountability, openness and honesty, the Project on Government Oversight said in a seven-page priority list, the first of its kind prepared by the group, published late last month.

Treasury Officials Go Secret on Bailout Facts
WashingtonWatch.com reports that just two weeks after the passage of the bailout bill and one day after a Treasury Department official declared, “We are committed to transparency and oversight in all aspects of the program,” the department began covering up the amount it would pay to New York Mellon Bank to act as a financial agent in the bailout. It also reports that the department will not announce which banks are getting cash infusions in the next portion of its modified bailout program.

Foster Child Death Study Costs Paper a Year
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that, even under a relatively liberalized new law on access to information about the deaths of childen while in foster homes, it took more than a year of petitioning the juvenile court and conducting other research to assemble and understand redacted case files on 33 such deaths in San Diego County from 2000 to 2007.

State Workers Comp Board Gets First Sunshine
The Los Angeles Times reports that this month a little-known state agency that doubles as a $20-billion insurance company will hold its first public board of directors meeting in nearly a century, after years of secrecy, questionable behavior by board members and, more recently, scandal.

City Officials Blink at More Police Sunshine
The San Jose Mercury News reports that a citizen task force's proposal to require broader release of San Jose police reports—as part of a new sunshine ordinance—met stiff resistance recently from the mayor and council members, who cited law enforcement concerns about making crime-fighting more difficult, despite disclosure exemptions to protect personal safety, privacy or ongoing investigations.

Parent: School Assignment Not Transparent
Writing in BeyondChron.com, a parent with two children enrolled in the district explains why the San Francisco Unified School District’s assignment of pupils to particular schools needs to be a process as transparent as it possibly can be.

Firefighters’ OK Sought to Reveal Bonus Report
The Napa Valley Register reports that American Canyon City Attorney Bill Ross said the city has decided to make public a so-far-secret report regarding controversial firefighter bonuses—as soon as the affected employees and the local firefighters union allow it to be. The report concerns “educational” bonuses awarded for “life experience” credit from an online university not accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Last month the city council voted in closed session not to release the report—and not to disclose who voted for or against that decision.

Contractor Misconduct Database in New Law
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reports that President Bush has signed into law a bill that includes a provision to establish a database of information regarding the integrity and performance of federal contractors and grantees, which however will not be accessible by the public. POGO has just updated its own Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, on which the new official version was modeled. 

Ted Stevens, Defender of Intel Budget Secrecy
Secrecy News blogger Steven Aftergood relates how the insistence on treating the total intelligence budget sum as classifiable sensitive information—a long tradition in the spy agencies only rarely departed from—had its chief champion in the U.S. Senate's newly convicted felon Ted Stevens of Alaska.  Aftergood examines and explodes the megalocryptomania.

Public Information

Judge to Feds: Release Watchlist Petitions
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that the Treasury Department must disclose petitions from individuals and groups who want to be taken off a list of suspect names maintained by the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The U.S. District Court in San Francisco ordered the release in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco represented by attorneys Thomas Burke and Jeff Glasser of Davis Wright Tremaine.

Officials Withhold Records on Bond Shortage
The Contra Costa Times reports that Pasadena Unified School District officials have refused to release invoices, an attorney's report and other records related to their investigation of at least $80,000 they say is unaccounted for from a 1997 school bond and is suspected to be embezzled.

Public Records Released Reveal . . .

  • that San Diego city officials overseeing rubble removal from homes destroyed in last October's wildfires were alerted within weeks to overcharges, questionable quantities of debris and conflicts in records documenting what two city-hired companies hauled from the lots and that they attempted to correct some problems, but didn't always follow through, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
  • that Oakland Port Commission President Darlene Ayers-Johnson has spent more than $133,000 on travel-related expenses during the eight years she has served on the panel, including thousands on first-class travel and entertainment while traveling on behalf of port business, according to PolitickerCA.com.
  • that California’s licensed vocational nursing bureau regulators acted belatedly or not at all in responses to patient complaints of wrongdoing by licensees, even when expressly told that nurses had committed serious crimes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • that a charter bus that crashed and killed nine people about 60 miles north of Sacramento last month was not inspected for safety because the owner failed to report it as the law required, and that the owner, who died in the crash, had not reported that bus to highway patrol inspectors even though other buses he owned had been reported and inspected, according to the Associated Press.

Free Press

CalAware Director, Others Win FOI Kudos
PeytonWolcott.com reports that the newspaper published by Tim Crews, a member of the board of directors of Californians Aware, has won two first place awards in the annual Better Newspapers Contest of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, presented late last month.  Crews’  Sacramento Valley Mirror, published in Glenn County north of Sacramento, won top honors in the smaller weekly newspaper division for Investigative/Enterprise Reporting and for use of the Freedom of Information laws. The three other first place winners for Freedom of Information in their respective categories were the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, the Sacramento News & Review, and the Orange County Register.  The publishers also presented their annual individual Freedom of Information award to Marji Lundstrom, investigative reporter for the Sacramento Bee.

Doctor’s Libel Suit against Newspaper Dismissed
LakeCountyNews.com reports that a judge has dismissed a libel suit filed by a neurologist against the Lake County Record-Bee taking issue with the newspaper’s report that she had “misdiagnosed” a local radio personality with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease before further testing concluded that the patient instead suffered from Dystonia. 

Times Sits on Key Video at Source’s Request
The Los Angeles Times reports it was being criticized by the McCain-Palin campaign for refusing to release a video about which it published a news story last April concerning a 2003 tribute dinner at which Barack Obama praised a Palestinian scholar. The newspaper’s statement was that the video is being withheld “because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it."

Open Meetings

D.A.: Home Meeting Violated Brown Act
The Wave Newspapers in Los Angeles report that Mayor Maria Santillan and two other members of Lynwood’s five-member city council have been notified by the District Attorney’s Office of Public Integrity that they violated the Brown Act in attending a community meeting held at the mayor’s home in September to discuss a proposed utility users’ tax.

Judge: CEQA Listings Unlawfully Opaque
CityWatchLA.com reports that a Superior Court judge has ruled that the Los Angeles Planning Commission’s habit of using meeting agendas to obscure what will be under discussion—like referring to a proposed action item with major environmental consequences as “ENV-2007-2939-MND”—violates state law.  In the Brown Act challenge brought for a neighborhood group by attorney Robert Silverstein, Judge David Yaffe noted that the commission’s agenda items were clearly described, “except actions to be taken or considered under the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Court: Police Review Body Must Exclude Public
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a state appeals court has ruled that civilian police review boards like Berkeley's must exclude the public from their meetings in order to keep officers' personnel records confidential.

School Board Won’t Cop to Brown Act Breach
The Orange County Register reports that Capistrano Unified School District trustees recently rejected their attorney's opinion that they should admit a “technical” violation of the state's open-meeting law during a subcommittee meeting last month, opening a door for a lawsuit targeting the transparency of the school board's activities.

D.A. Gets Complaint about Anti-Drug Network
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that Chris Bray, who as a newspaper reporter four years ago successfully sued to have a drug enforcement task force organized by Los Angeles County police chiefs open at least some of its meetings to the public, says he’s asking District Attorney Steve Cooley’s Public Integrity Division to investigate the agency for further violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act.

City Settles Brown Act Suit Brought by Paper
The Santa Barbara Independent reports that the City of Santa Barbara has settled a Brown Act lawsuit brought by Ampersand Publishing, parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press, involving a brief discussion almost a year ago by three members of a volunteer committee concerning a matter not listed on the agenda: the redesign of a city plaza.

Open Courts

Council to State Courts: Mind Public Access
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California Judicial Council, responding to an incident last summer, told the state's judges at its most recent meeting to include “public access to court proceedings” as a factor in their security plans.  Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) proposed the reminder after Yolo County sheriff's deputies excluded all but their own from a Woodland courtroom last June for the arraignment of a man charged with killing a fellow deputy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s