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Board's Secret Action Broke Law, Judge Rules


A Los Angeles judge ruled Tuesday that the Board of Supervisors violated the state's open-meeting law when it directed its lawyer to kill a proposed ballot initiative aimed at raising the wages of workers who care for disabled people.

Supervisors gave the order during a closed session designated on their agenda for debate over "initiation of litigation." Judge Dzintra Janavs found that the board exceeded the limit of that topic during its Dec. 18 meeting and in two follow-up executive sessions during which supervisors dealt with fallout from the case.

"It was beyond the agenda. It was an action that should not have been taken in a closed meeting and it should have been reported" to the public, Janavs said, ruling in a lawsuit brought by The Times.

But Janavs declined to issue an injunction barring the county from future violations. She said the newspaper's attorneys had proved only the three instances that dealt with the initiative, not a lengthy pattern of violations that would invite such an order. Nor did she find that the county chief administrative officer's regular meetings with individual supervisors the day before board meetings constituted a violation of the open-meeting law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Both county and media lawyers said the ruling pleased them.

"It's what we've been saying is repeatedly going on in closed sessions," said Richard McKee, president of the California First Amendment Coalition, a co-plaintiff in the case.

Attorney J. Kenneth Brown, representing the county in the case, said Janavs had found only "minor" violations. "We consider it a victory," he said.

A Times study of a year of supervisors' agendas found that the supervisors make more than 90% of their decisions without any public input.

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