1st Amendment News

San Francisco resident sues over failure of city to enforce sunshine law

A retired lawyer is suing the San Francisco Ethics Commission for not enforcing open government laws. He claims that since 2004, the sunshine ordinance task force forwarded to the commission 14 cases in which the public has been denied public records but in every case the commission dismissed the claim in favor of the city. -DB

San Francisco Chronicle
City Insider
October 20, 2009
By Heather Knight

Retired lawyer and Seacliff resident Allen Grossman says it’s been overcast for too long – and he’s not talking about living in the city’s fog belt. He’s sued the Ethics Commission in Superior Court over what he calls its “consistent failure” to enforce open government laws, including the city’s own sunshine ordinance.

The sunshine ordinance task force takes up cases brought by members of the public who’ve been denied public records from city officials and departments. The task force can decide if the case has enough merit to send it on to the Ethics Commission.

That’s happened 14 times since 2004, Grossman said, and in every case, the Ethics Commission has dismissed the person’s claim and foundin favor of the city official. Grossman points out that in many of those cases, the official accused of needlessly withholding public records (such as the mayor, the district attorney or the city attorney) has appointed a member of the Ethics Commission.

“It’s like a black hole,” Grossman said. “The task force is really stuck because they go through this long process and they try to validate the rights of the public to get at these records, and the Ethics Commission just deep-sixes them. … The task force has lost its credibility.” John St. Croix, director of the Ethics Commission, said he couldn’t comment on pending legislation. A hearing is scheduled in Judge Charlotte Woolard’s courtroom on Nov. 30.

Copyright 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

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