Enforcing the state’s open meeting law

The L.A. Times tackles a story about the number of Brown Act violations investigated by the District Attorney’s office, which receives dozens of complaints a year from constiuents across Los Angeles county. The Brown Act is the state’s open meeting law.

Among the cities mentioned in the story is Walnut, which was threatened with litigation for a closed door meeting in which, “Mayor Joaquin Lim was said to have led a council discussion and polled his colleagues about opposing construction of an NFL stadium in the neighboring city of Industry,” according to the Times article.

But as Terry Francke points out in the story, it is very difficult to see criminal charges come from Brown Act violations.

But criminal charges are nearly impossible to bring, said Terry Francke, a lawyer and author of a guide to the state’s open meetings law. Prosecutors must show that an official intentionally violated the law, a difficult standard to meet in court, he said.

“The idea of a letter, firing a shot across the offender’s bow, is a very good one,” Francke said.

As reporters, we frequently receive news tips from people alerting us of a possible Brown Act violation, such as when a majority of council members allegedly make a decision before an item ever appears on the agenda. But even proving that is especially difficult since elected officials can simply say, “No, I did not violate the Brown Act.”