What it means; and how it was willfully violated by the Los Angeles County Council on Domestic Violence (the DVC).
By Fred Sottile
All the way back in 1953 there was concern that meetings by a quorum of public officials were being held in private. A California State Assemblyman named Ralph Brown authored legislation that made this illegal. It was passed, and it stated that meetings of governing bodies had to be noticed, and made public. This has now been extended to include conference calls and even group emails.
In 2008, in the California Court of Appeals, attorney Marc Angelucci and the Men’s Legal Center were given a favorable ruling in a case titled Woods v. Horton. The ruling stated, to paraphrase, that men were to be given equal protection under the law in regard to domestic violence (DV) services; that male victims of DV, are similarly situated to female victims for purposes of the statutory programs. They must be treated equally in accordance with the law.
It is interesting to note that one of the Appellee lawyers (lawyers against the decision) was Edmund G. Brown Jr., now our current Governor.
After the case was settled, Marc Angelucci and a number of other NCFM members went to the Los Angeles County Council on Domestic Violence (the DVC) to give a presentation on the importance of complying with the law. There was Press there to cover the event. The leaders of the DVC were shocked by the appearance of the Press and expressed resentment in no uncertain terms.
At the end of the presentation, forms were passed out to the estimated sixty attendees, on which they were asked to rate the presentation. There were 31 responses. I was NOT one of the responders. The response very telling.
There were 31 fascinating responses. Ratings were 4 – 1 in 11 categories. There was also space for comments on questions which were asked on the form.
In rating, 4, was the highest rating; 1, the lowest. The first 14 people responded with all 4s, except for an occasional 3.
In other words, 43.4% of the respondents thought the presentation was great.
The next 9 people gave 4s and 3s.
So 27.9% of the respondents said good to great.
27.9 + 43.4 = 71.3 (7 of 10, the vast majority were overwhelmingly positive)
The second group, 5 people, had given a rating of 1 (poor) in at least one category, with an average of 2.3.
So 15.5% felt that the presentation was a little better than fair.
The third group was the haters. Two with 1s, straight across the board.
The final group of 4 gave an average of 1.3.
So 12.4% just hated the whole thing.
Now, my simple question is this. How can it be that a group of people who: • Work together
- Have the same mandatory training
- Have the same clientele
- Are College educated
- Applaud each other every month have 14 members who give 4s with an occasional 3 right across the board, and
Two members who give 1s straight across the board?
Marc Angelucci asked me to begin to monitor the meetings of the DVC to see what their reaction to the Woods Decision was over time. Well, it was very largely disregarded. The DVC and the DV Shelter Providers adopted a mindset of “If they want us to give services to a whole new category of people, then it is incumbent upon them to increase our funding accordingly.” Some leaders actually stated this. I witnessed this.
After a while, I began to realize that my witnessing and reporting back to the VP of NCFM was not enough. My words sounded like opinions and were incomplete. Also, I was missing the vitriol, the tone of contempt that was expressed by members and visiting presenters toward men, that was impossible to document. I decided to video record the meetings.
In 2011, I showed up at a meeting with my little camera and a one foot tall tri-pod. The Director of the DVC marched right over to me and told me that I was not allowed to record the meeting. She said that there were lawyers there whose life would be in danger if video got out of them at the DVC meetings. Knowing the day and time of where these lawyers and prosecutors would be would make it easy for disgruntled men to stalk and kill them.
I told the enraged woman that recording the meeting was my right, and that the ladies, who wow, must have done something really bad, could take a place behind the camera, out of view, and be silent if they liked, but that I was going to stay. The Director then told me that if I did not relent, that she would cancel the meeting. It was a rainy day. There were about sixty people who came out for this meeting. I told the Director that I would turn off the camera and put it back in the bag, but that “she was going to get yelled at.”
I then contacted a County Attorney. I told the attorney what had happened. She said that she would look into it. Well, the following month, the attorney showed up at the meeting and spoke immediately after the meeting started. I know that using clichés is poor writing, but in this case, saying “she read then the riot act,” really fits. She firmly stated that the DVC had violated my rights, and to my shock said that if they did it again, the DVC would be disbanded. I wish I had a recording of that.
The director of the DVC was not done with me. In the spring of 2012, an associate of mine and I were asked to leave in the middle of a meeting because the group wanted to discuss something that that was none of our business. We refused stating our rights under the Brown Act. Officers were called and we were escorted out.
Again we notified the County Attorney.
She followed up with a letter signed by District Attorney Steve Cooley. Who I can tell you is no friend of men. That statement does not come from opinion, it comes from experience. But that is a story for another day.
Please see the attached letter.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
STEVE COOLEY • District Attorney
JACQUELYN LACEY • Chief Deputy District Attorney
PATRICK R. DIXON • Assistant District Attorney
JANICE L. MAURIZI • Director
June 6, 2012
Executive Board Members
Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council
500 West Temple Street, Room B-50
Los Angeles, California 90012
Re: PID Case No.: 12-0381
Dear Executive Board Member:
The Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office received a complaint that the Executive Board of the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council (LACDVC) violated the Brown Act during your meeting of September 8, 2011. We have concluded that for the following reasons a violation did occur.
Because they are the governing body of a local agency, the Board of Supervisors is a legislative body subject to the Brown Act. (California Government Code section 54952(a)) The LACDVC was created by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in 1979 and, as a result, is also subject to the Brown Act pursuant to Government Code section 54964(b). Section III ofthe LACDVC bylaws creates an Executive Board and establishes that the board shall hold regularly scheduled meetings. Those meetings are subject to the requirements of the Brown Act and must be open and public unless one of the limited exceptions in the Act applies.
Item number 7 on the agenda for the September 8, 2011, meeting of the Executive Board states “Executive Session- Personnel Matters Follow up- Olivia G. Rodriguez.” Section 54957(b)(1) of the Government Code provides an exception to the open meeting requirement for specified personnel matters:
…nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to prevent the legislative body of a local agency from holding closed sessions during a regular or special meeting to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against the employee by another person or employee unless the employee requests a public session.
Any personnel matter that does not fall within the exceptions specifically listed in section
54957(b)(1) cannot be discussed in closed session. For example, the Executive Board meeting with the executive director for the purpose of being briefed on LACDVC issues or to provide an
766 Hall of Records
320 West Temple Street Los Angeles, CA, 90012
Fax: (213) 620-9648
Executive Board Members
June 6, 2012
opportunity for the Executive Board to provide instruction or guidance to the executive director would not fall within the narrow exceptions listed.
During our review it was determined that the closed session involving Olivia Rodriguez did not involve the appointment, employment, performance evaluation, discipline or dismissal of an employee. As such, the closed session of September 8, 2011, violated the Brown Act.
A review of other agendas and minutes of the Executive Board indicates that the closed session with the executive director on September 8, 2011, was not an isolated incident. The item appears on Board agendas as a regularly occurring portion of the meetings. This confirms our determination that the violation was a result of a misunderstanding of the personnel exception to the open meeting requirements and not motivated by an intent to deprive the public of information to which it is entitled. As a result, this office will be taking no legal action other than to bring this violation to the attention of the Executive Board with the expectation that the Board will take the appropriate steps to correct the problem.
In the future, any discussions between a majority of the members of the Executive Board and the executive director must take place at a noticed and agendized public meeting unless one of the listed personnel exceptions specifically apply. The Public Integrity Division will be reviewing future agendas and minutes to confirm that corrective action is taken.
If you have any questions, or wish to discuss this matter further, please contact me.
Very truly yours,
STEVE COOLEY District Attorney
By tJ; t>&
David E. Demerjian
Head Deputy Public Integrity Division sg
Mr. Sottile is the author of five books which are available here: https://www.amazon.com/Fred-Sottile/e/B00EWLHUOW
NCFM Board Member Steve Sottile, The Brown Act (The Sunshine Law) and the Los Angeles County Council on Domestic Violence
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