Group Founded by Late Civic Activist Creates Litigation Fund in His Name


CARMICHAEL — Californians Aware (CalAware), a nonprofit organization co-founded by Richard McKee to improve transparency in government and defend free speech rights, has created a fund in his name to enable it to continue his work of enforcing such rights by going to court if necessary.

“Rich McKee was a tireless champion for open government and the right of the public to participate in the government they created,” said CalAware President Dennis Winston, a Los Angeles attorney who successfully represented McKee in several actions adding important precedents to the laws of open meetings and public records. “The Rich McKee Memorial Fund will enable CalAware to carry on Rich’s commitment for the benefit of every citizen of California.”

Emily Francke, CalAware’s executive director and one of its co-founders with McKee, who worked closely with him to plan and execute several large-scale statewide audits of public records practices, said on a special web page describing the fund that donations will be used for filing fees and other out-of-pocket expenses. The fund is not intended to pay attorney fees, since lawyers for CalAware look to recover their fees from public agencies that are found by a court to be violating the law.

“It was Rich’s vision that once this program is sufficiently funded, it will be self-sustaining for years to come,” she said.

McKee died of natural causes at his home in La Verne on April 23.  The experience for which he first became known statewide—being ordered by a court to pay a school district more than $80,000 in attorney fees for unsuccessfully suing it on open meetings, public records and free speech grounds—led to a change in the law protecting the public from the threat of such crippling outcomes in similar lawsuits.

The fund’s web page links to a list of McKee’s 23 open government cases since 1994—most successful, most brought in his own name with his own resources—that constitutes “a record of individual civic activism that has nothing approaching a parallel in California history,” said Terry Francke, co-founder of CalAware and its general counsel.

“That Rich was able to have this impact and maintain a sunny and generous disposition despite his stubborn insistence on keeping the public aware of public matters makes him a kind of citizen saint that, sad to say, only his untimely death has led us fully to appreciate.  We must not disappoint his spirit.”


Bill Would End Legislature's Special Secrecy Status

Meanwhile Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, the La Cañada/Flintridge Democrat whose feud with Assembly Speaker John Pérez over issues of budgetary discipline created the focus on Assembly office spending records (and the access denied to them), on Thursday introduced a bill that would repeal the Legislative Open Records Act and replace it with the much tougher transparency standard imposed on the executive branch, local government and even, by and large, the courts’ business records—the California Public Records Act.

Assembly Committee Kills Sunshine Bills Sponsored by Newspapers

The Assembly Appropriations Committee, not necessarily retaliating for a lawsuit by the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee to open up the Assembly’s office budgeting records, but not necessarily not retaliating either, on Thursday derailed two bills sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association and carried by Senator Leland Yee (D-Dan Francisco).  SCA 7 would have allowed the state’s voters to place two fundamental parts of the Brown Act (posting meeting agendas and reporting actions taken in closed session) into the state constitution.  SB 326 would have required the state’s courts to move toward a practice of providing access to the filed complaints in new civil and criminal actions on the same day received in the courthouse.  In some counties this access can lag for days or weeks.