Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Court of Appeal:
Three-Minute Limit on Public Comment Not Unlawful Restraint
Opinion Says Lack of Like Curtailment of Remarks by Staff, Guests Doesn’t Establish Unreasonableness
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has rejected the contention of a disbarred lawyer that his free-speech rights were trammeled by a rule of the Long Beach Transit Company Board of Directors restricting comments by members of the public to three minutes while not imposing the same time limit on staff members and invited guests.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman, sitting on assignment, wrote the opinion for Div. Eight. It affirms a judgment in favor of the city awarded by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr., following a bench trial.
The action was brought by ex-lawyer Joseph Meir Ribakoff, now of Virginia. He spoke for three minutes on an item at an Aug. 24, 2015, meeting of the board—which he regularly attended—and was cut off when he reached the time limit.
Then, when the board was discussing the matter following the public comment period, he sought to speak again, arguing with the chair as to his right to do so, and it was necessary to call for a police officer to escort Ribakoff out of the City Council Chambers where the meeting was being held. He sued on various theories, relinquishing causes of action for damages when the city pointed out he had not filed the requisite claim against a public entity.
In Friday’s opinion, Goodman rejected Rubinoff’s contention that the three-minute limit is presumptively unreasonable because it is imposed only on members of the public. He said:
“Ribakoff’s argument fails to recognize the different purposes served by staff/invited guests, on the one hand, and members of the public, on the other. The purpose of staff/invited guest presentations to the Board, or any similar body, is to present to the members of that body in their capacity as legislators, and to the public in attendance, what can be detailed—and perhaps lengthy—analyses of the particular agenda item, to inform both the members of the board and the public concerning the item.”
“Limiting presentations by staff and guests who are invited to speak based on their expertise to the same extent as members of the public ignores the information function served by staff and invited experts. Truncating such presentations does not promote informed decision making by the legislative body. The chair of the legislative body continues to have the ability to regulate the length of those presentations. Nor is there any reason to think time allocated for those presentations would be unlimited or extend beyond that needed to inform all in attendance concerning the particular agenda item.”
Ribakoff also insisted that the curtailment of his speech was content-based, motivated by a desire to censor him. That point, Goodman responded, was “without factual basis.”
He noted a lack of evidence of any hindrance to Ribakoff while using his three minutes in speaking on the item (relating to coordination with other transit authorities in the county as to applying fares paid in one district to continued trips in another jurisdiction).
Goodman said “it was only when” Ribakoff “rose to speak a second time—during the period for discussion, deliberation and voting by members of the Board—that his request to speak again was turned down,” and “the facts establish Ribakoff’s second request to speak was declined because previously he had consumed all of the time allowed to him as a member of the public to speak on a particular agenda item.”
The case is Ribakoff v. City of Long Beach, B279462.
Ribakoff represented himself. Roger A. Colvin, Vincent C. Ewing, and Araceli Almazan of Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin acted for the city.
Ribakoff was disbarred Nov. 12, 2010, for failing to return unearned fees to a client after having twice been disciplined for like offenses and for failing to abide by terms of his probation.
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