Newspapers Mass to Back McKee Brown Act Case

Less than two weeks after the death of CalAware's founding president, Rich McKee, more than 100 California newspapers have joined in a friend of the court brief supporting the lawsuit he filed last year to challenge the lawfulness of 30 or so unannounced but official luncheon meetings of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, held in 2009 but since discontinued.

That action was found wanting by the local superior court, which without any precedent or serious analysis concluded that the taxpayer-supported gatherings, often held on the same day but prior to the regular open meetings of the board, involved discussions of office management issues not important enough to merit the public scrutiny required by the Brown Act. The case is now before the California Court of Appeal's Fifth District in Fresno.

Since McKee filed the action, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and two local daily newspapers, the Tulare Advance-Register and the Visalia Times-Delta, joined as co-plaintiffs.

Attorneys with California's largest media law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine of Los Angeles and San Francisco, waived their fees for preparing and filing the amicus curiae brief.  The First Amendment Coalition recruited newspapers large and small throughout the state to lend their names to it.

Those familiar with media amicus briefs say they have never before seen such a widespread show of support. "It's not unknown for a dozen or so news organizations to provide amicus brief backup to a case involving access to courts or court records, particularly involving secrecy in criminal prosecutions," said CalAware General Counsel Terry Francke. "But a Brown Act case? This lineup is astounding, and I'm sure Rich would be delighted to see his militancy for grassroots-level transparency getting such universal respect."

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