Friday, September 11, 2009

Challenge to Texas open-meetings law dismissed

The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has dismissed a case in which two city council members in Texas claimed the state's open-meetings law violated their right to free speech.

The full court, in a one-sentence ruling Thursday, said the case, Rangra vs. Brown, was moot because both Alpine City Council members who filed it four years ago have left the council and are no longer in a position to be injured by the law.

The two had been threatened with prosecution by the Texas attorney general for discussing city business by e-mail. They argued that the open-meetings law's requirement that they not discuss public business in private violated their constitutional right to free speech. A federal judge had ruled against them, but a three-member panel of the Court of Appeals overturned that ruling. The full 17-member appeals court agreed to hear the appeal, a rare event. The vote was 16-1; the dissenter criticized the others for taking the easy way out.

Proponents of government transparency had feared that if the appeals court ruled in favor of the two councilmen, open-meetings laws in other states might come under attack. Other experts, including Jon Fleischaker of Louisville, the First Amendment lawyer who largely drafted Kentucky's law, had said the three-judge panel's ruling was illogical and would never stand.

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