May 10, 2009

Anti-anti-SLAPP legislation in Sacramento

The California Legislature might not be able to fix our multi billion-dollar budget deficit, but a bill authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would prevent courts from imposing debilitating penalties in good-government cases such as the one that saddled open-government activists Rich McKee and CalAware with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

The legislation would bar government agencies from seeking repayment of attorney fees under the state's anti-SLAPP law when they are sued to produce public documents or to comply with public meeting requirements. Anti-SLAPP allows defendants to collect attorney fees when a court decides a case is without merit.

McKee and CalAware joined a lawsuit brought against Orange Unified School District for alleged violations of public meeting law. They lost the case and the court awarded the district more than $80,000 in attorney fees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of open government and suing for documents, but I'm not sure the court made the wrong call here. As CalAware's own letter makes clear, the unedited tape of the meeting was readily available to anyone. For most reporters, that's usually enough. Some other non-journalism motives seem to be at play here.

In CalAware's own words:

But the trial court dismissed our action upon the district’s special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP law, concluding in effect that the board majority’s right to express its opinion through a resolution of censure (contrary to its own policy) was superior to that of the trustee it censured, and that the superintendent’s editing of the video recording violated neither public records nor free speech law since the original recording was available intact at the district office for whoever wished to view it.

The California Court of Appeal agreed and upheld the trial court’s judgment.