CNPA joins First Amendment Coalition and news organizations to urge court to reverse harmful Brown Act decision

CNPA and other media advocates are asking the second appellate court to overturn an erroneous ruling by the Los Angeles Superior Court which, if upheld, would make it virtually impossible for the public to challenge a local agency’s use of closed session exemptions.

In 2015, Metrolink, Southern California’s largest commuter rail system, held a closed session meeting to discuss a potential design defect in its new rail cars after a deadly accident. Metrolink excluded the public from attending the “emergency” meeting, failed to comply with the Brown Act’s requirements for teleconferencing, and incorrectly applied the closed session exemption used to discuss “security procedures.”

As a result, the Los Angeles Times and Californians Aware sued, arguing that the “emergency” exception, claimed by Metrolink, was not meant to permit such a closed door meeting. Last year, the trial court issued a troubling ruling, without legal basis, finding that it was required to defer to Metrolink’s conclusions about the potential safety threat, thus concluding that Metrolink did not violate the Brown Act.

This result, if affirmed, would have a devastating impact on the ability of the newspapers and the public to dispute an agency’s determination regarding the applicability of the California’s open meeting and open records laws. The court’s automatic deference to an agency’s interpretation of an exemption would never permit a member of the public to challenge an agency’s interpretation based on the standards established by the legislature in the Brown Act.

CNPA joins the First Amendment Coalition along with the Southern California News Group, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists in the brief, written by attorney Karl Olson of Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes and Almazan.

The brief argues that the deferential standard applied by the trial court directly conflicts with the preamble of the Brown Act: “that the people do not give public agencies the right to decide what is good for them to know and bad for them to know.”