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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: Must An Agency Provide Translation Services for Board Members Who Need Them?

Q: We work with a number of local water boards. Community Service Districts and Public Utility Districts. which are required to comply with the Brown Act. The boards we work with are typically in disadvantaged communities, where Spanish is the language of a large number of residents (if not the majority). I have been trying to find some law on what translation services are required for board members who are monolingual. A: I’m not aware of any law that requires local agencies to arrange for translation services for its board members, but the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act (Government Code section

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A&A: How Do Citizens Know If Agenda Items Meet the Criteria for Closed Sessions Discussion?

Q: How does a member of the public know if matters taken up in the closed session portion of a meeting of a state body qualify under relevant law to be so classified? Do we have to take the agency’s word for it? At meeting this year of a committee of CalPERS pension fund, many topics that for years have been taken up in open meetings were moved to the closed meetings. This is an abrupt change. Prior to the meeting, when asked about the change in the agenda, a representative of CalPERS responded that: “One of the key questions

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A&A: Multiple Requests to Pull Item off Consent Agenda Overridden by County Supervisors

Q: If a County Supervisor stuffs an item back onto the Consent Agenda during a closed-door meeting, do I have a legitimate complaint that can be brought to the Fair Political Practices Commission? A: The California Fair Political Practices Commission is the state agency tasked with enforcement of California’s Political Reform Act, and primarily concerns itself with the conduct of political campaigns and elections. Your situation is more likely to be covered under the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act, Cal. Gov. Code § 54950 et seq., which generally requires that local legislative bodies transact the public’s business at noticed, open,

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A&A: Accessing Aggregated Medical Information for COVID-19 Deceased

Q: I was told by our county authorities that the county cannot release specific ages, gender, co-morbidities or housing situation (group homes vs. apartments vs. single-family homes) for those individuals whose cause of death was attributed to COVID-19 on the grounds that releasing that data would violate health information privacy rules under HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). I do not want a list of information for each individual. I want to aggregate data on demographics. I understand HIPPA protects the individually identifiable health information about a decedent, but I wouldn’t think aggregate information would count as “individually identifiable.”

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A&A: Can a Newspaper Be Held Liable For How it Described Court Documents in a Story?

Q: We have a question about properly citing Court documents in one of our articles. We ran a story based on court documents and police reports. One of the defendants contacted us saying that we “defamed” him in our article by writing that he had been “convicted” of the crime. His argument is that he plead guilty and therefore was never “convicted.” My question is if we did make any mistake citing these documents, have we possibly opened up ourselves to liability? A: In California, the law provides protections to the media for accurately reporting on “official” documents and proceedings,

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A&A: Did Facebook Violate My First Amendment Rights When it Deleted My Comment As “Hate Speech”?

Q: Recently Facebook removed a comment I made on my account and warned me about “hate speech.” This is a real strongly-worded accusation, and “hate” definitely was not my intention. I think it is or should be illegal to call something “hate speech,” just because it is conservative and opinionated and Facebook’s policing of my account is unwarranted legally. Do I have a case? A: In general, First Amendment claims can only be brought when the government attempts to suppress the speech of its citizens — i.e. when there is “state action” that suppresses free speech. It is unlikely that

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