The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors reached a settlement agreement with the group Californians Aware in a lawsuit alleging the Board violated the Brown Act — California’s open meeting law — in a series of closed session meetings in September 2011, discussing AB 109 with officials from the State of California.
AB 109, lso known as public safety realignment, is a controversial subject all on its own. The bill was signed into law last year, being the State’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Plata, which ordered the sharp reduction of the state prison population to reduce overcrowding and address medical inadequacies that were considered to be cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the 8th Amendment strictures.
This massive shift in power — the release of state prisoners on parole to check with county probation officers instead of state parole officers as well as relegating three-strike offenders to county jail instead of state prison — prompted worry amongst L.A. supervisors. Given that the State, at least according to the Board of Supervisors, had inadequately described the AB 109 population as well insufficiently funding the County for control of that population.
That last part is key: since the Board felt, if improperly funded, the County could possibly be unable to provide public services, this was a threat to the public safety. That is a major caveat of the Brown Act’s open-to-public policy: Government Code section 54957(a), which permits a closed session if public safety is in danger. Therefore, the meetings were conducted in privacy.
However, even according to transcripts of the meetings released, questions about the meetings’ legality lingered from not only reporters outside who complained that the meeting was closed, but amongst the officials meeting themselves. For instance, on September 26, 2011, then-County Counsel Andrea Ordin had the following exchange with Governor Jerry Brown:
MS. ORDIN: I will say something also about the fact that this is a very unusual meeting, and we did make it unusual because of these potential threats to public service.
GOVERNOR BROWN: Let’s get our Brown Act cover story.
According to a release from the Board, they are “fully committed to transparency and openness, and with complying with both the spirit and the letter of the Brown Act. Los Angeles County will pay the legal fees and costs for Californians Aware, totaling $14,750.70… The Board agrees to restrict its future use of closed sessions accordingly[.]”
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