A&A: Can Local Government Hold Public Meetings in A Federal Building Where No Cameras Are Allowed?

Q: Is it legal for a body subject to the Brown Act to hold their regular meeting in a federal building where we have been told to take our cameras back to our cars?

A:  As a preliminary matter, there is nothing in the Brown Act that would prevent a legislative body from holding a meeting at a location different from where the legislative body typically meets.  That said, there may be a local ordinance or a rule contained in the legislative’ body’s bylaws that require meetings to be held in a particular location, so you may want to check to see if this is the case with respect to the sheriff’s civilian oversight committee.

The Brown Act explicitly provides that members of the public can record a public meeting with “an audio or video recorder or a still or motion picture camera,” unless the legislative body finds that “the recording cannot continue without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that constitutes, or would constitute, a persistent disruption of the proceedings.”  Gov’t Code § 54953.5(a).

Unless the legislative body has made a “reasonable finding” that disruption would occur, it seems that the legislative body here cannot evade this requirement just because this meeting has been moved to a federal building.  If the federal building in question has a strict rule on the allowance of cameras on its premises, then it would seem that the legislative body should move its meeting to a location where recording and filming is permitted.  And finally, even if the federal building does have rules about cameras and other recording devices that apply to, say, trials and other judicial proceedings, it may be that under the First Amendment, those same restrictions would not apply to the meeting such as the one you described.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.