Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lawyer unworried by court open meetings ruling

First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker, architect of Kentucky's open records law, says he's unworried by a federal appeals court ruling that the Texas Open Meetings law could be unconstitutional.

"Perhaps I'm foolish," Fleischaker said in an email, "but I am not bothered. Efforts to use this case will spread, but I do not think the court's reasoning or the result is logical or will be adopted."

A panel of The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Monday in Rangra v. Brown that elected officials have a First Amendment right to talk to each other in private despite the Texas Open Meetings law. It said the Texas law would have to pass stringent constitutional muster and ordered the original trial court to review the case, which involved two city council members exchanging emails on whether to call a council meeting on a public contract issue. The lower court had said the email exchange violated the state law.

The Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press has urged the full appeals court to rehear the case, fearing the decision could bring constitutional challenges to open meetings laws across the country

"If this decision is allowed to stand, local elected officials throughout the Fifth Circuit could violate the open meetings laws in their states with impunity," said Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee. "Such a scenario would make a mockery of open government in those states."

A more detailed report on the case can be found at www.rcfp.org/newsitems/index.php?i=10747

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