Four Open-Government Battles We Are Fighting and Why They Matter

Even from the perspective of the happy warriors here at FAC, it hasn’t been the best year for First Amendment rights and government transparency. In some ways, 2019 plumbed new lows, with governments at all levels continuing their assault on press freedoms, free speech, and government transparency.

But we’re not letting the curtains come down on this year without a fight. Several of them, in fact.

I want to tell you about just four key cases in FAC’s Strategic Litigation Program — all of which take crucial steps in the waning moments of 2019.

 1. FAC’s Campaign for Police Transparency

Today, our statewide campaign to enforce California’s landmark police accountability law continues, with a hearing at the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, where we are defending an important ruling in favor of transparency. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office has taken the position that no records in its possession involving officers who work for local law enforcement agencies around the state are subject to the new disclosure requirements under Senate Bill 1421. We strongly disagree, and so we brought this suit alongside KQED, which has this report on the case.

2. FAC’s Campaign for Police Transparency, Continued

Last Thursday, we filed another lawsuit against Becerra, this one challenging his office’s decision to shield the identities of agents who were sued over their conduct on the job. This lawsuit under the California Public Records Act comes after my colleague Glen Smith began requesting records of legal settlements involving Justice Department agents. When the department began producing these records, it redacted agent names. California law simply doesn’t allow this. The truth will out. 

 3. Bakersfield — Egregious Secrecy at City Hall

Last Friday, we had our day in Kern County Superior Court, where FAC and Californians Aware brought suit over violations of the Brown Act, after we learned the Bakersfield City Council held closed-door meetings in 2017 to discuss city finances, including a potential sales tax increase. As the Bakersfield Californian reported, a ruling in our favor “has the potential to be a public rebuke of the city’s handling of a sensitive topic in Bakersfield, and could potentially alter the City Council’s behavior in regard to future closed sessions.” As KGET reports, we are awaiting a ruling.  

4. Oakland — Fighting for Public Access to Criminal Proceedings

And finally, tomorrow we will be in Alameda Superior Court, challenging secrecy in an Oakland murder case, where legal briefs and other records have been placed under seal. Read more about our efforts, and our collaboration with UC Irvine law students, who are helping us step in for the citizens of Oakland to seek transparency in this case. 

Heads high, First Amendment partisans. FAC is working harder than ever to enforce your rights — and the rights of all. In the new year, I look forward to sharing updates about these important efforts and the many other ways we are working to defend, promote and protect free speech, a free press and the public’s right to know.
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