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Asked & Answered

A&A is a searchable database of questions posed by users like you about their rights under open government laws and First Amendment safeguards that have been answered by FAC’s attorneys—all First Amendment and government access specialists at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP, an international law firm with offices in San Francisco.

A&A: Can a records request be denied in California over fear of the public being misinformed?

Q: Are there any California Public Records Act cases that allow or disallow the withholding of records under CA Gov. Code Section 6255, based on the danger of the public being misinformed by the disclosure? A: We are unaware of any cases holding that a danger of misleading the public is valid grounds for withholding a record. As you know, the “catch-all” exemption of § 6255 only applies if the agency can demonstrate that “on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.” Cal. Gov.

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A&A: Councilman is rude to speakers making public comments. What is our legal recourse?

Q: Our small town elected a person to the city council who has been so bullying and rude to residents during public comments, in official emails to residents and in phone calls and encounters on the streets that the council was forced to adopt a code of conduct. Under COVID-19, it would be especially difficult to do a recall effort. Do any of us have any legal recourse? The code of conduct is toothless and the digital communications policy only applies to employees not elected officials. A: Unfortunately, your inquiry primarily implicates election laws and the local city council’s own

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A&A: Can a California City Council Cut Public Comment Time with No Notice Before Meeting?

Q: At the last two City Council meetings, the agenda has announced a three-minute time limit per person for public comments. Then, at the start of the meeting, this has been reduced to two minutes. I’ve reviewed (to the best of my ability) relevant case law that allows for deviations from the Brown Act when there is a lengthy agenda, or where the city’s Rules and Procedures outline that speakers can be given “up to” three minutes. But Rules and Regulations simply state that speakers will be given three minutes. So I do not believe this case law is applicable

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A&A: Can I Sue A Newspaper Over Censoring a Paid-For Obituary?

Q: Can I sue a newspaper for refusing to publish a full-page obituary that I was paying for. I used two naughty words, and I refused to back down. Their paper is laden with foul and vulgar words, usually, just for effect. Mine was a commentary about the social forces that caused the death of the subject of the obituary. A lawyer told me I cannot sue a private paper? Then what are my options? I will not take out the naughty words and there is no other paper in town who would dare publish it. A: Whoever told you

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A&A: Police Department in New Jersey Won’t Release Report on a Family Member’s Death

Q: I have requested a copy of the police report about a family member’s death in New Jersey They won’t let me have a copy. A: New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act provides that “government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest, and any limitations on the right of access … shall be construed in favor of the public’s right of access.” N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.  However, the Act also provides that “where it shall appear that the record or records which are

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A&A: Emailed Public Comments Were Not Read as Promised at Board of Supervisors Meeting Closed By Coronavirus

Q: I requested that two statements be read on the public record at a County Board of Supervisors meeting. This board met in spite of the fact that the meeting was closed to the public due to Coronavirus pandemic, and they stipulated that emailed statements would be read and failed to do so. What is my recourse, if any? A: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Newsom issued executive orders N-25-20 and N-29-20, which temporarily suspend any Brown Act requirements “expressly or impliedly requiring the physical presence of members, the clerk or other personnel of the body, or of the public as a condition of participation in or

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