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Meeting Law Was Violated, Court Says

November 05, 2003|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and its attorney violated the state's open meeting law, then tried to conceal its violation from the public, a state appellate court has ruled.

The Oct. 29 ruling by a three-judge panel is the final chapter in a long-running dispute that involved an effort by county supervisors to secretly defeat a ballot initiative.

During a closed meeting in December 2001, supervisors directed their lawyer to block a ballot initiative that would have required the county to give raises to workers who care for the disabled.

The meeting was listed on the supervisors' agenda as initiation of litigation. The next day, the supervisors' attorney, Lloyd W. Pellman, called three of the five supervisors to tell them he believed blocking the ballot measure would be illegal. The supervisors then discussed Pellman's response in two subsequent closed meetings, listed on the agenda as employee evaluations.

A county employee erroneously mailed paperwork about those closed meetings to The Times, and the newspaper sued the supervisors for violating the state open meeting law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act. A judge ruled in 2002 that supervisors had broken the Brown Act, but declined to bar them from future violations. The judge also did not order the county to pay The Times' legal fees.

The appellate court reversed that part of the decision. The judges concluded that The Times deserved legal fees because the county's behavior made it clear there could be additional Brown Act violations. After The Times received the documents, Pellman had denied that a Brown Act violation had occurred and had demanded the documents back, judges noted.

"Rather than acknowledge the violations and agree not to do so again, the board and Pellman resisted" legal challenges, the appellate court wrote.

Pellman did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Last year, the district attorney's office ruled that the supervisors did not violate the Brown Act. On Tuesday, however, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley insisted that the office had found that the supervisors violated the Brown Act.

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