Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Reporter Who Sued to Open Police Agency Meetings Asks Cooley for Probe
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A former newspaper reporter who successfully sued to have a task force organized by Los Angeles County police chiefs to coordinate the battle against drug trafficking to open at least some of its meetings to the public over four years ago said yesterday he will ask District Attorney Steve Cooley’s Public Integrity Division to investigate the agency for further violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Chris Bray, who once covered the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force for the Claremont Courier, also said he may file another lawsuit against the agency.
Bray and open-government activist Richard McKee of Californians Aware sued the agency, popularly known as LA IMPACT, for violating the Brown Act in 2004.
This district’s Court of Appeal ruled that the task force was subject to the act’s requirement that meetings be “open and public,” but Bray told the MetNews the organization is “playing a ridiculous game” to thwart his ability to obtain minutes and agendas from LA Impact Board of Directors meetings.
Bray sent a request for past minutes and both past and upcoming agendas to LA IMPACT on Sept. 8, but did not receive a response from LA IMPACT’s attorney, Christy O’Donnell of Manning & Marder, Kazz, Ellrod, Ramirez, until over five weeks later.
O’Donnell’s letter, dated Oct. 14, directed Bray to schedule an appointment to view the minutes at the LA Impact headquarters in Commerce and indicated that an agenda for the board’s upcoming meeting was enclosed.
The envelope the letter came in was dated Oct. 15, and the meeting was scheduled for Oct. 16. Bray claimed he did not receive the agenda until after the meeting was over.
Bray said that he and O’Donnell exchanged email to schedule an appointment for Bray to review the minutes at LA IMPACT’s headquarters on Oct. 15, but after receiving no response for five days, he sent a letter to O’Donnell reiterating his request.
The attorney responded by email on Oct. 22, indicating that “[c]orrespondence has already been drafted to your October 20, 2008 letter and will be sent out via U.S. Mail advising you of your appointment next Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 7:00 am at LA IMPACT, and also addressing your allegations of Brown Act violations which lack merit and are less then [sic] professional. Thus, as they are addressed in my correspondence I will not waste my clients [sic] money repeating them here.”
Bray observed “it takes one day to get a letter from downtown L.A. to me,” but said he did not receive the letter, dated Oct. 23, until yesterday.
O’Donnell’s letter noted that there was no board meeting between his original correspondence Sept. 8, and her initial response Oct. 14 and claimed there was “thus no information to provide to you, until we received notification from LA IMPACT of a scheduled meeting….”
But Bray emphasized that he had asked for past minutes and agendas as well as upcoming agendas, so “her saying we couldn’t respond to you doesn’t make any sense.”
O’Donnell also mentioned that Bray had the option of driving to the Santa Fe Springs location to view the agenda for the upcoming board meeting, but Bray said the drive is 23 miles, “and only 9,000 hours in traffic,” from his West Hollywood home.
“They’ve chosen one place to post their agenda when every municipality in the county participates,” he complained.
The lawyer also reiterated that the appointment on Thursday was made available for Bray. Bray rejected the appointment in an email yesterday, claiming that the “sunrise appointment” was unreasonable and violated Government Code Sec. 6253, which provides that public records are open to inspection at all times during office hours.
O’Donnell did not return multiple phone calls for comment.
Bray, an Army reservist who had been stationed in Kuwait, said he decided to send his Brown Act request after he returned stateside because he had “already invested two years” in trying to gain access to the LA IMPACT board meetings. “It’s like you build it and you want to see if it runs,” he explained. “If they just responded… it would have been a five minute thing and I would have dropped it.”
He said his initial interest in the organization came up while he was working as a reporter for the Courier and learned the group was holding private meetings of its Board of Directors and Executive Council, and not publicly posting meeting agendas.
In 2004, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra I. Janavs, since retired, found that the program was a joint powers authority under the Government Code and met the Brown Act’s definition of a “local agency.” She determined that its board and executive council were both legislative bodies within the meaning of the act.
This district’s Court of Appeal affirmed Janavs’ decision, ruling that the task force can meet in executive session to discuss ongoing investigations, as the Brown Act provides, but is not entitled to blanket secrecy. The state Supreme Court denied review, and rejected depublication requests by L.A. IMPACT and the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
“There’s a court order, and [the task force is] not following it, in addition to not complying with state law,” Bray said. “They’re a local government agency, they have to obey the law, that’s it.”
The original case was McKee v. Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 354.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company