Mar 18, 2009

Bankrupting free speech

The public's right to monitor its government is in trouble.

Open-government activist Richard McKee has waged a tireless battle to ensure government agencies do their work in the light of day. Over the last decade or so, the Pasadena City College chemistry professor worked to enforce California's Brown Act and Public Records Act with a gadfly's tenacity, but always with a goal of promoting the common good.

Never punitive, McKee always made an effort to reach out to recalcitrant government officials before resorting to lawsuits - the only mechanism by which the public can enforce these laws. McKee, who is not a lawyer, often ended up in court despite his best efforts. He drafted his own arguments and won far more cases than he lost.

I don't know of a newspaper in Southern California that hasn't benefited from McKee's work, either through his court victories or his free advice. Indeed, McKee often gave reporters just the boost they needed to get over the wall of obfuscation put up by government agencies trying to shield their corruption, or embarrassment, or plain bad decision-making.

Now Mckee finds himself on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars because of a wrongheaded court ruling that says he and advocacy group CalAware must pay Orange Unified School District's legal fees from a case they brought four years ago after the district censored one of its board members.

From CalAware founder Terry Francke:
This month ... California courts finalized an order that a small public interest non-profit group and its past president must pay nearly $86,000 for merely asking them to protect the public’s right to hear the opinions expressed by its local elected representatives.


...McKee, whose wages have already been garnished by OUSD, and who has had a lien placed upon his home by the district, is left to scramble to come up with the remaining $80,000. He’s already paid $59,000 of it through a second trust deed on his home, depleted his savings, and is now taking another $16,000 from a tax shelter annuity. How he will come up with the remainder is uncertain.
Francke also makes an appeal for financial help:
To help Rich McKee stop the hemorrhage of his life savings to answer this liability and to help CalAware build its resources to fight for open government in the future, send a tax-deductible charitable gift check marked “Legal Defense Fund” to Californians Aware, 2218 Homewood Way, Carmichael, CA 95608, or contact Terry Francke by e-mail— —or phone—(916) 487-7000.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Citizens should take to the streets with torches and pitchforks over this kind of nonsense.

More intimidation of common people who seek basic information about the actions of their governments.

Government accountability to the people is dead.