California governor signs bill superceding ruling on open meetings
Although a new law may not resurrect a student journalist's open-meetings grievance against the University of California Board of Regents, open-government advocates praised Gov. Gray Davis for signing a measure that supercedes a recent state Supreme Court decision that dismissed the case.
On June 1, the California Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit contending that former Gov. Pete Wilson illegally rounded up votes on the Board of Regents in an effort to dismantle affirmative action programs at the state's largest universities.
The court ruled that student reporter Tim Molloy and The Daily Nexus, the student newspaper at the University of California-Santa Barbara, could not pursue their claim under the state's Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act because they failed to file their lawsuit within the time frame prescribed by the law.
The new law, approved by Davis on Sept. 15, supercedes that decision. Specifically, the law extends the time frame within which a grievance must be filed from 30 to 90 days.
The Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had represented Molloy, praised the new law as a “great victory for all of us who believe that government should conduct its business in the light of day.”
“This new law vindicates the principle for which we have long fought: That public officials must be held accountable to the people they serve,” said Dan Tokaji, a staff attorney for the ACLU, in a written statement. “Public officials can no longer act in secret, hide their wrongdoing for 30 days, and then get away with it.”
Michael Fleming of the ACLU said it remains unclear whether Molloy may continue pursuing his claim, “but there is a sense that is dead and buried.”
According to the lawsuit, Wilson and the board violated the law by secretly securing votes through private phone conversations prior to the July 20, 1995, meeting at which the board voted to approve resolutions abolishing affirmative action in the university system.
Wilson and the board sought to have the suit, Regents v. Superior Court, dismissed on procedural grounds, noting that Molloy had not made a demand for corrective action within a required 30-day period after the alleged violation.
Both a superior court judge and the state Court of Appeals allowed Molloy to pursue his case. But the Supreme Court dismissed the case, noting that Molloy had taken more than seven months to file a claim against the regents.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco, amends the Bagley-Keene Act by requiring the Internet posting of meeting notices and minutes by all state agencies.
The bill also states the legislative intent to override the Supreme Court's decision in Regents by extending the 30-day time period for filing grievances against state agencies to 90 days.
A call to the Regents office was not returned.