Judicial Council Calls|Open Meetings a Success

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California’s Judicial Council on Thursday bid farewell to several longtime members and revisited a contentious rule that opened many of its advisory groups and subcommittee meetings to the public.
     The council approved the open meetings rule last year under legislative mandate, despite some members’ reluctance. Press groups criticized the rule for its list of exemptions, which allow committee chairs to close meetings for discussions about security, personnel, legislative strategy, agenda setting and attorney-client privilege.
     Justice Douglas Miller, whose Executive and Planning Committee drafted the rule, told the council Thursday that just over half of the 293 meetings held during the rule’s first year were open. He said 64 percent of the 149 open meetings had been attended by the public, by phone or in person.
     The council must report the numbers to the Legislature. Miller recommended that the council accept the rule’s one-year progress report without any changes.
     “The headline or takeaway from this is the rule is working as designed,” Miller said. “It is making a complete and welcome addition to the more transparent approach this council has taken in the last four years.
     Justice Harry Hull said the council should keep in mind the 36 percent of meetings that the public skipped.
     “I still remember the pain we went through in putting this rule in effect and I’m not anxious to revisit it,” Hull said. He said he did not want to constrict the rule, but was concerned about resources being wasted to open committees meetings in which the public has shown little interest. “If we somehow can discern that staff cost is not necessary, I think we would be wise to try to figure that out,” he said.
     Presiding Judge Brian McCabe, of Merced County, called the rule a success.
     “It appears that all the concerns that were aired were more mythological than anything else,” McCabe said. “I stress this because a lot of my brethren in the trenches were naysayers and indicated that this was going to be problematic for the branch, it was going to stifle discussion, etc. In the end, FDR was right, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and this worked out to be a marvelous vehicle for transparency.”
     It was the last meeting for departing council members Sutter County Clerk Mary Beth Todd, attorney James Fox, Yolo County Judge David Rosenberg, Sacramento County Judge David De Alba, Los Angeles County Judge James Brandlin, Judge Joan Weber of San Diego, Assistant Presiding Judge Morris Jacobson of Alameda County, and Presiding Judge James Herman of Santa Barbara, whose 5-year term made him the longest-serving member of the group.
     “I believe every single person can attest to the hard work they put in in trying to bring to California equal access to justice,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said.

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