The Brown Act is the California law governing public meetings. It’s serious business. § 54959 states that
Each member of a legislative body who attends a meeting of that legislative body where action is taken in violation of any provision of this chapter, and where the member intends to deprive the public of information to which the member knows or has reason to know the public is entitled under this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Now, that intent element is a little sticky. Evidently it’s not a crime “to deprive the public of information” if you’re just ignorant of the law or too arrogant to understand that the law applies to you or whatever. But at least some members of some groups subject to the Brown Act must be guilty of a misdemeanor when, e.g., they explicitly deny members of the public access to documents which the Brown Act states explicitly must be made available to the public “immediately.” When a member of a body subject to the Brown Act says “no, you can’t look at the document,” the intent is clear. The member “has reason to know” the law because it’s their job to know the law, them being a member of a Brown-Act body. Bang! Misdemeanor. Then how does the law get enforced in such a case?
The procedure is laid out in the Act itself (§54960 et seq.). Either the DA or a member of the public can go to court and ask for injunctive relief of various kinds or else “any interested party” can write a letter to the criminals, point out their crime, give them 30 days to think about it, and allow them the option of promising never to do the crime in the future albeit without admitting that they actually did it in the past. As far as we can see, no one has ever gone to jail for violating the Brown Act (although see this story about a guy in Illinois who placed a whole county board of supervisors under citizen’s arrest).
Continue reading How to Enforce the Law