8083 – Closing the Book on Open Meetings

 

Would you like to see some of your elected public officials in jail? I hope that’s not how you feel, but even if you do, it’s definitely not going to be easy putting them there. This case involved the Texas Open Meetings Act, which makes it a criminal offense to discuss public matters outside of an open meeting. Several public officials were indicted for exchanging e-mails that discussed privately whether or not they were going to call a council meeting to consider a controversial contract. They sued to block the prosecution, and the Court that first heard the case upheld the indictment, holding they could be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law joining in the human cry to teach our public a lesson they won’t forget. But the Appeals Court reversed, holding that the law violated their right to free speech, and that public officials cannot be criminally punished for speaking out on matters of policy. So putting public officials in jail turns out to be a very hard sell, and despite open meetings and closed e-mails, taking bytes out of crime doesn’t play.

THIS IS NEIL CHAYET LOOKING AT THE LAW

Rangra v. Brown, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 06-51587 4-24-09, Dennis, J., USLW, Vol. 77, No. 43, Pg. 1685, 5-12-09