The Recorder Cheryl Miller 2013-02-22
"The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of publicofficials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny."
— California Constitution,Article 1, §3 (b)(1)For decades, California's courts have upheld, even championed, laws granting the publicopen access to government meetings.They've enforced strict boundaries on what elected officials can discuss in closed session,chastising one city for using open meeting exemptions "as a shield against publicdisclosure of its consideration of important public policy issues."
Shapiro v. City Council of San Diego
, 96 Cal.App.4th 9904 (2002).They've ordered agencies to provide the public with accurate agenda descriptions of whatthey plan to do in session — and then stick to them.
Carlson v. Paradise Unified School District
, 18 Cal.App.3d 196 (1979).And they've deemed public access to government information a check "against thearbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process."
CBS v. Block
, 42Cal.3d 646 (1979).But when it comes to running their own governmental house, judicial leaders have takena more do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do approach.The Judicial Council meets regularly in closed session, each time citing an expansiveRule of Courtthat gives the chief justice broad authority to shut out the public.Sometimes a vague reason is given for the closed session — "privileged attorney-clientdiscussions," for example. Many times, however, the meeting is simply listed as a"nonbusiness meeting" and closed. There guidelines for when a meeting can be closed arevague and rarely does the council report any action taken in such meetings.While the council circulates agendas prior to its meetings, the five so-called internalcommittees that perform much of the planning and policy shaping for the branch do not.Brief minutes of these committees' meetings are usually included in the Judicial Councilagendas, but often not until months after the gatherings occurred.The council'sDec. 14, 2012, information packet, for example, included minutes for anAug. 12, 2012, meeting of the Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee. The summarynoted that the committee had opposed a pending bill dealing with bail procedures for felony suspects. But it offered no record of committee members' votes and no reasoning