California Municipal Law Blog

Municipal Law Blog

Legal updates on current legislation and court cases affecting California local government

Attorney General Addresses Conflict of Interest Question Affecting Joint Powers Authorities

Posted in Ethics

The California Attorney General issued an opinion related to the rights of Joint Powers Authority (JPA) voting members which likely affects all JPAs throughout California.  The question arose where a member of the board of directors was required to recuse himself from voting on an issue because of a conflict of interest.

The subject of this particular opinion was the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which is comprised of 26 individual agencies or municipalities. Some of these member agencies are allotted more than one seat on the board of directors. Those agencies, for example the City of Los Angeles, have their total number of votes proportionally allocated among their members who sit as members of the MWD board of directors for voting purposes. If a director of one of these multi-director agencies is absent from a board meeting, that director’s share of the votes are reallocated among the other directors of the constituent agency on a one time basis. Continue Reading

Governor Signs Law to Require Agency Reports Before Approving Changes to Executive Compensation or Benefits

Posted in Legislative Updates, Meetings, Uncategorized

On August 23, 2016, Governor Brown signed SB 1436 (Bates), which mandates that local agencies report out certain information before changing the compensation or benefits of their “executives.”  Under this new law, legislative bodies (e.g., city councils, boards of supervisors, or boards of directors) for agencies must “orally report a summary of a recommendation” for changes in salaries or benefits before voting for the changes.  The votes must then take place in the open session portions of their meetings.

SB 1436 is part of an evolving trend toward requiring greater transparency concerning the compensation of high-ranking local officials following the City of Bell scandal.   Among the open-government measures that have been implemented previously, local agencies must now report their employee salaries to the State Controller and must abide by a number of limitations before changing the compensation and benefits of their high-ranking officers.

The following questions and answers are intended to provide a convenient reference for understanding and applying the new law. Continue Reading

Court Holds Six-Minute Discussion on Non-Agendized Matter Doesn’t Violate Brown Act

Posted in Meetings, Recent Court Decisions

When a person raises an issue not on a meeting agenda, how much can council or board members discuss the issue without running afoul of the Brown Act?  A recent court case provides some helpful guidance.

In Cruz v. Culver City, a California appellate court held that a six-minute discussion about how to place an item on a future agenda did not violate the Brown Act.  Fortunately for local agencies, the court rejected a challenge to the discussion that had relied on a hyper-technical reading of the Act’s language. Continue Reading

Daily Journal Publishes Our Public Records Article

Posted in Public Records Act

In its July 25, 2016 edition, the Daily Journal published our article, Making Effective Public Records Requests.  The article discusses city attorney Derek Cole’s perspective on how to streamline the records-request process and obtain records more quickly.  A link to the article is here: Making Effective Records Requests Article

A Brief Detour Into Family Law – “Date Of Separation”

Posted in Legislative Updates

Governor Brown signed SB 1255 on July 25, 2016 which becomes effective on January 1, 2017. The law overturns a controversial decision by the California Supreme Court in 2015 which re-set the date of separation in family law.

Traditionally, when a marriage dissolved, the parties moved out of the shared residence and into their own places. Over time, this began to change, particularly with the advent of the recession. People realized that if they could co-exist in the home, they could live more cheaply and more easily co-parent their children, even while considering the marriage to be dissolved. Spouses learned how to “live apart while living together.” In family law, the date of separation became the date that the parties considered themselves to be separated, even if they lived in the same household. In the case of In Re Marriage of Davis (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1109, the Court of Appeal held that “a spouse who continues to live in the family home but who, in every meaningful way, has abandoned the marital relationship” could still be separated. Continue Reading

Paying Medical Marijuana Dispensary Taxes Doesn’t Violate Constitutional Privilege Against Self-Incrimination

Posted in Medical Marijuana, Proposition 215

When cities tax medical marijuana dispensaries, does the requirement that dispensary operators pay the taxes violate the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination? No, says a California appellate court.

In City of San Jose v. Medimarts, Inc., the Sixth District Court of Appeal held that a corporate entity and its president could not invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege on the ground that paying the tax may subject them to criminal liability under federal law, which—at least on the books—criminalizes all transactions involving marijuana, even for medical purposes. The court’s decision settles an issue that has often been raised whenever cities or counties have proposed to tax or regulate medical marijuana operations. Continue Reading

How to Effectively “SLAPP” Back

Posted in Damages

SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation” and is perfectly named. The whole point of the lawsuit is to intimidate people into submission. The goal is not necessarily to win the case; it is to make life so difficult and expensive that the defendant just gives up and goes away.

Many states, starting with California, have enacted protections against such lawsuits, recognizing that they infringe on someone’s freedom of speech and right to participate. Continue Reading

Court of Appeals Holds MMBA Fact-finding Applies to all Impasses, not Just Those Concerning MOUs

Posted in Employment Law, Recent Court Decisions, Unions

The Fourth District Court of Appeals issued two decisions yesterday that held that fact-finding under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”) applies to all impasses between exclusive representatives and MMBA public agencies such as cities, counties, and special districts.  The results in these cases means that when impasse is reached in negotiations involving a city, county or special district with an exclusive representative employee organization, and that dispute involves subject matters within the scope of representation, the public agencies could be forced to engage in non-binding fact-finding if the exclusive representative meets certain conditions.  (Of note, it is only the exclusive representative and not the public agency that has the ability to trigger fact-finding under the law.)  Continue Reading

Supreme Court Divides Equally Over Union Fees Case

Posted in Employment Law, Recent Court Decisions, U.S. Supreme Court, Unions

Previously we wrote about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (a link to our previous article is here), a case involving whether public-sector union fair share arrangements are invalid because they violate individual first amendment rights.

Today, the Supreme court divided equally in deciding the case and issued a one-sentence decision affirming the Appellate Court decision and leaving earlier precedent, including the Abood case intact (as criticized as it has become.)  The case was decided by an eight-member Court, which could have held the case over for re-argument after confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice but chose to move forward instead. Continue Reading

In Public Records Case, State Supreme Court Holds Inadvertent Disclosure of Privileged Records Request Doesn’t Waive Privilege

Posted in Public Records Act, Recent Court Decisions

As this Blog previously noted, the State Supreme Court had before it two cases in which inadvertent disclosures of attorney-client privileged records were made in response to requests under the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”).  In both cases, the question was whether the mistaken releases waived the privileges.   (Our previous updates about these cases are linked here and here.)

On March 17, the Court resolved a split in the appellate courts by ruling that mistaken disclosures do not waive the attorney-client privilege (or the related attorney “work-product” protection).  In so ruling, the Court reversed the lower court’s decision in Ardon v. City of Los Angeles and effectively affirmed the decision in Newark Unified School District v. Superior Court. Continue Reading