Governor Jerry Brown, with the deadline for taking action on bills looming, signed a measure that restores the ability of the public to enforce the Brown Act when a violation has occurred.
Co-sponsored by CNPA and Californians Aware, SB 1003, by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), was introduced to overturn the appellate court's decision in McKee v Tulare County Bd. of Supervisors that ruled existing law does not provide a remedy for past violations by a local agency.
When the bill takes effect on January 1, 2013, within nine months of an alleged violation, SB 1003 will allow a district attorney or interested person to submit a letter to an agency setting forth the circumstances of the violation and demanding that the agency cease its behavior. The agency will then have thirty days to issue a "commitment letter" stating that it will end the conduct that gave rise to the allegation.
If the agency continues to violate the Act after the issuance of the letter, or if the agency refuses to issue a commitment letter, the interested person would have 60 days to file an action in court for declaratory relief or a writ to enforce the law for the past violation.
The litigation that prompted the legislation was initiated by the late Rich McKee, the Visalia Times-Delta and CNPA. It challenged the Tulare County Board of Supervisors' practice of holding over 46 regular lunchtime meetings outside of public view, without public notification and paid for with public funds.
The plaintiffs contended that the lunches were meetings that violated the Brown Act's requirement that meetings of local legislative bodies be noticed, open and public. After the action was filed, the Supervisors told the court that they had suspended the lunchtime meetings.
The court ruled that the Brown Act did not provide a remedy for "past" violations. Further, since the petitioners did not allege a "present" violation of the Act, they had no right to relief because the Supervisor's acknowledged that the lunches were suspended.
Had the Governor not signed SB 1003, if a member of the public had filed an action alleging a meeting of a legislative body violated the Brown Act, the agency could have simply declared it had suspended its practice of meeting in the offending manner. Since there would no longer be a threat that the Act would be violated, as a matter of law, the court would have been required to dismiss the action.
Here is a link to the Visalia Times-Delta story on its investigative series that uncovered the secret meetings leading up to the litigation and the importance of the Governor's signature on SB 1003