Judge's Ruling's Set to Reject Brown Act Lawsuit

OPEN MEETINGS
A Tulare County Superior Court judge could throw out a
lawsuit seeking to force the county Board of Supervisors to end its
practice of holding lunch meetings without notice or access by the public, reports David Castellon in the Visalia Times-Delta.

The petition for the
court order was filed earlier this year by Richard McKee, an advocate of
open government, who claimed the supervisors violated the Brown Act,
California’s open meeting law, when at
least three of the five supervisors — a quorum — gathered for lunches
and discussed county business.

Later, the Visalia
Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register and the California Newspaper
Publishers Association joined the lawsuit.

But the case
could end before ever getting to trial because Monday Judge Melinda Reed
issued a tentative ruling in favor of a motion by the supervisors
seeking to throw out the case — called a “demurrer” — on a claim that the
plaintiffs’ accusations of Brown Act violations are insufficient to go
forward to trial.

The hearing in the case is set for tomorrow, June 30. The judge's tentative ruling is that

  • the supervisors' previous public admissions that they used the private pre-meeting lunches—charged to the county—to compare travel plans, office arrangements and official activities cannot be used as evidence since the plaintiff cited them "on information and belief" but had no personal knowledge of them; and
  • the discussions the supervisors have admitted having do not amount to meetings subject to the Brown Act since the topics were merely administrative details, not "policy making discussions affecting the general public or having to do with the county’s governmental interest."

There is no legal support for the second proposition, and the court is willing to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to allege the topics of the meetings based on disclosures procured in discovery, such as by deposing the supervisors or subjecting them to written interrogatories.

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