The California Court of Appeal today issued a decision allowing an Open Meeting Act lawsuit against the U.C. Regents and the Governor to go forward. The Court also said there is information to support plaintiffs' claim that the Governor and Regents broke the law.
The ACLU and a coalition of groups contend that Governor Wilson violated the Bagley Keene Open Meeting Act by secretly locking up the votes of a majority of Regents prior to the July 20, 1995 meeting at which the Board voted to approve resolutions abolishing affirmative action at the University. Plaintiffs allege that Governor Wilson locked up the vote through a series of private phone conversations prior to the meeting. Such conduct, if proven, would violate the Open Meeting Act.
After plaintiffs filed their suit in February 1996, the Governor and Regents sought to have plaintiffs' lawsuit thrown out on procedural grounds. The trial court refused to do so, and the Court of Appeal's decision today affirms that ruling. This decision allows the plaintiffs, the UCSB student newspaper reporter Tim Molloy, and the UCSB student newspaper, The Nexus, to proceed with their claim seeking a declaration that Governor Wilson and the Regents violated the Open Meeting Act. Plaintiff will be allowed to obtain information and take depositions regarding the Governor's and Regents' alleged wrongdoing.
The decision also protects the ability of citizens and newspapers to challenge official wrongdoing in the future. This court's decision does not allow plaintiff Tim Molloy to obtain a remedy of nullification, because his suit was filed after the 30 day statute of limitation for obtaining nulification had run. However, the Court did say that, "Objective facts, of which he was aware within the 30day filing period, supported his claim that a violation had occurred." The Court also held that Open Meeting Act plaintiffs who file suit within 30 days, and then investigate the potential wrongdoing, will be protected from malicious prosecution actions.
"Today's ruling is a victory for the public's right to know" said ACLU attorney Dan Tokaji. "It will allow the Daily Nexus and Mr. Molloy, at long last, to get to the bottom of the secret conversations that occurred prior to the Regents' antiaffirmative action vote. For over a year and a half, the Governor and Regents have adamantly resisted our attempts to uncover this information. The decision today means that Governor Wilson and the Regents will have to stop stonewalling, and disclose information that should have been disclosed to the public months ago. The Court's decision also makes clear that there is good reason to believe that the Governor and Regents broke the law."
Plaintiffs will proceed with their motion to compel the Regents to answer questions under oath about their efforts to lock in the vote on affirmative action during premeeting telephone conversations with Governor Wilson and each other. A motion to compel was filed before the Court of Appeal decided to hear this case.