Letter: State Law Protects Secrecy and Right to Oppose Its Abuse

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At the School Board meeting of June 11, Dee Perry compellingly justified her response to an email from the school superintendent’s lawyer, offering unsolicited direction to stop speaking out on public policy matters to avoid personal legal and financial ruin. Board member Vickers defended the email as “informative” beneficial advice.

Confronted by Perry over inappropriate emails, Vickers and the school district lawyer admitted his client is LBUSD, not Perry. Yet, the controversial message warned Perry of personal liability for not obeying demands for secrecy. If that veiled threat was real, his ethical duty was to recommend Perry get legal advice from a lawyer representing her interests.

After seeking guidance from recognized public interest law experts in Santa Ana and Sacramento, Perry sent the offending email to a policy advisor–openly using official LBUSD email, not a personal account. Perry astutely questioned in good faith the school district’s abuse of secrecy powers.

State law known as the Brown Act mandates open access to meetings, information and documents; secrecy is strictly confined. CA Gov. Code 54963 narrowly defines “confidential information” as “communication made in a closed session.”

If lawful secrecy is compromised unlawfully, Sec. 54963 contemplates “remedies…currently available by law, including, but not limited to…Injunctive relief to prevent the disclosure of confidential information…Referral of a member of a legislative body who has willfully disclosed confidential information…” to District Attorney or Grand Jury.

However, to prevent abuse of secrecy to silence dissent, Section 54963 also provides local government agencies “may not take any action…against a person, nor shall it be deemed a violation of this section, for…expressing an opinion concerning the propriety or legality of actions taken by a legislative body of a local agency in closed session, including disclosure of the nature and extent of the illegal or potentially illegal action.”

Legally, Perry could have gone to the press, but she simply shared an email with one very close ally, asking her: “What do you think?”

While Perry stayed within the Brown Act, I believe the school district went outside that legal framework to evade any impartial judges who might agree with Perry.

Instead of pursuing Brown Act “legal remedies,” the superintendent and school board chose Perry’s partial removal from office as a “political remedy” imposed without proof or justification under law. I believe this is another case of retaliation without due process.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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