Malibu City Council Revises Minutes of April Meeting in Response to Allegations by Local Journalist
• Freelancer Raises First Amendment and Brown Act Issues
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
A local freelance journalist, who is challenging what he contends are City of Malibu actions that may infringe on First Amendment rights in the community via a secret deliberative process that also violates state law, took his case to City Hall Monday night.
Hans Laetz, with three decades of experience as a broadcast news manager and print reporter, is a self-described “midcareer law student, working part-time for three news organizations.”
He raises concerns about what Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich has repeatedly at press conferences and in individual interviews and emails called a “committee, or a commission” charged with coming up with a draft ordinance to address the mayor’s contention that paparazzi are endangering local residents and something has to be done to curb their actions.
Conley Ulich, ostensibly on her own, enlisted the aid of Ken Starr, of Monicagate notoriety and the dean of Pepperdine Law School, where the mayor is an adjunct professor, to assemble what was called “an independent attorney association” at an April city council meeting. Her colleagues, by consensus vote, gave her a green light to pursue the matter.
The mayor has refused to name those who have attended subsequent meetings, but a recent email from her to the Malibu Surfside News includes CC’s to four other members of the Pepperdine Law School faculty. Conley Ulich has not responded to inquiries about whether these individuals have taken part in discussions.
The mayor proposed her “project” shortly after a Pepperdine Law School conference in early April entitled “Free Speech and Press in the Modern Age: Can 20th Century Theory Bear the Weight of 21st Century Demands?”
An announcement states, “This conference will examine whether these theoretical models [e.g. First Amendment rights] remain valid and compelling bases for the continued development of free speech law in the 21st century in areas presenting major challenges of our modern age.”
This tenor was perceived by some unfettered press advocates as paralleling additional restrictions on free speech and press, especially when the conference notes the need to reflect the “age of terrorism,” construed as reflective of the White House use of 9-11 as a manipulative image.
At the Monday council meeting, the members revised the minutes of the April meeting where the “independent attorneys association” was approved to reflect that no group was formed and that Conley Ulich is acting solo.
City Attorney Christi Hogin prepared a lengthy memo on the matter, then on the one hand diminished the role of what is in the city minutes, while exhibiting concern that they be “corrected” in response to Laetz’s allegations.
Seemingly admonishing the council for “getting a little loosey-goosey” with terms and concepts, Hogin then said, that even though the council used the term independent attorneys association in April, some three months later, the council could clarify that wasn’t what it meant, prompting Laetz to respond, “That was the biggest tap dance I’ve heard from a lawyer in a long time.”
After the meeting, Laetz said, “That the city council would appoint our mayor to do this in the first place baffles me, that they allow her to do it in secret troubles me even more. The fact they felt it necessary to cover their tracks is astounding.”
In a subsequent communication, Laetz said, “The heart of the issue is a meeting that occurred in secret between two city council members and Judge Starr last spring, unannounced to the public, at which the city committee bounced around purported problems with paparazzi, and how Judge Starr would be able to fashion a new ordinance that would continue the Supreme Court’s trend of limiting free speech activities, such as in the infamous ‘Bong Hits for Jesus’ case.”
“The Malibu city attorney has given terrible advice to the mayor and council. Her reading of the open meetings law ignores specific sections that extend its coverage to ‘one-person committees’ set up by a legislatory body to handle specific subject matter.
“The city attorney has also eviscerated the law intended to preserve the public’s right to observe and participate in lawmaking, by using such arguments as no formal action was taken because the committee was authorized by a consensus vote, or that no city staff was assigned to the committee, making it not official.”
Laetz indicates that he is in contact with a number of First Amendment and journalist rights organizations, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (see story on page 3), that are interested in these issues.
Earlier in the meeting, Conley Ulich announced that she would be attending meetings of the Los Angeles City task force addressing paparazzi concerns. That group has also expressed interest in framing a measure to curb the photographers who focus on celebrities.
At first the mayor used the words “our task force” to describe a meeting she was scheduling for this Friday at 11 a.m. at City Hall “with anyone who wants to attend,” but her colleagues quickly jumped up and corrected her language.
Councilmember Andy Stern told Conley Ulich, “You declared it. We have nothing to do with it.”
Councilmember John Sibert was the first of the other members to specifically address Ulich’s choice of Starr for the drafting of a city ordinance. He said, “Ken Starr is not my choice to write laws in Malibu.”