Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Unsatisfied Public Records Act Request

Myself and another concerned individual filed a Public Records Act request with City Hall for targeted billing statements submitted by the law firm Colantuono & Levin during the fall of 2011. This being, of course, the legal corporation that we are somehow shrunk-wrapped to for City Attorney services, and have been for nearly a decade.

The purpose of this request was to track certain payments that I had been concerned about, but was also done in hopes of finding something really juicy to write about here on the blog. I know that our readership enjoys a good City Hall scandal, and it is my belief that there is at least the potential here for a pretty decent one. However, as of this moment we have not been able to find what it is we're looking for, and there is a reason for that.

In case you are wondering, the source for this concern was described at length in an article entitled "A Brown Act Dinner With Colantuono & Levin?" You can find it by clicking here.

In the upper left hand corner of this post is an example of what we received from the City. If you click on this inset it should hopefully enlarge, and you will clearly see a large black box right in the middle of the page. Which is, of course, where all of the useful information was going to be found. Naturally we were not very happy to see it there. Nor were we happy to see similar black boxes in the 150 or so other pages that accompanied this one. It all looked like something that would have been made public by the CIA.

When this PRA was first filed with the City, we did receive a letter from City Manager Elaine Aguilar telling us that she would not be giving us exactly what it was we'd been asking for. And that despite the clearly delineated legal requirements of the State of California on this matter, it was decided by those running our City's affairs that they would only supply the information that they wanted to supply. Everything else being "redacted." Here is how this compulsion for secrecy was explained by Elaine:

The documents for items 1 to 3 will be available for your review on or after August 16, 2012. The invoices and billing statements are attorney client privileged documents and cannot be released, unless redacted. Information, other than dates, times spent and total billed, will be redacted.

Apparently redaction, in Elaine's mind, means placing a big black box in the middle of the page and covering up almost all of the interesting information.

Now we all know that the attorney/client privilege so unfortunately invoked by Elaine as the reason for not fully honoring our Public Records Act request actually is - in practice - a good thing. At least it is a good thing when it is not abused. After all, if an individual was to find himself in a legally delicate condition and couldn't share his troubles with an attorney in complete secrecy, and without fear of what he was saying ever being exposed to the public, chances are good he wouldn't say anything at all.

However, in this case we were not asking for testimony, sworn affidavits, tapes of teary back office confessions, or anything else like that. We were just asking for billing records. We just wanted to be able to put a date to a certain meeting that might have gone beyond the legal sanctions of the Brown Act.

Here is another point. Who exactly is the client here? If you examine the document above, you will see that it has something to do with One Carter and that dusty stillborn housing development up there. Since this is public business, and the legal work funded by taxpayer money, doesn't that also make we the people the client? Outside of the bank stuck holding the bag on this disaster prone development, who else would have been involved in December of 2011? And since we are paying for the attorney, isn't it our right to know?

I'd hate to think that our tax money, designated for City legal services, might be spent on someone or some thing that is not us. That would constitute a rip-off of a most extreme kind. And certainly City Hall cannot have become a free legal services charity for miscreant real estate developers.

So what client is named on this invoice? Does this mean it wasn't actually us?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

73 comments:

  1. I think the attorney-client stuff is a bunch of hooey. I can understand if a line or two or three were blacked out, but the whole page? C'mon. The $52 items and the $26 are repeats, so it's a good guess they are some kind of usual fee - like meeting attendance. Is it a secret that no meeting of any kind can be held without a city attorney there?

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  2. 12 days, close to $1,500, about $120 a day.

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  3. A very good metaphor for City Hall's efforts at greater transparency.

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    1. But the city manager assures us, ad nauseam, that greater transparency is a top priority...

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    2. Isn't that how the untransparent usually talk?

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  4. Sounds like a tricky dicky moment. Back to Watergate. Let's hide the dirty tricks and deny it.Then pretend no one thinks we cover up anything because no one is as smart as us. The world is dum. We're above it all.

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    1. It works for Mitt Romney and the rest of the "elite"

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    2. They are all elite.

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  5. You and the tax payers ARE the clients and you should be able to view the WHOLE invoice. Keep on requesting.

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  6. Why should City Hall give up anything it doesn't want to? They have highly paid lawyers that will protect them. And the dumb schmuck taxpayers will pick up the tab. The attorney - client privilege here is between City Hall and C & L. The City Attorney is defending them against us.

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  7. I am going to e-mail the Moderator with my question, sort of a self redaction, no better yet I call him—oh, heck I’ll just tell him my idea when I see him next, least the city think we are on to something and try to cover it up before we can ask for another public request act.

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  8. When Joe Mosca, John Buchanan, Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh Walsh had their private dinner with Colantuono and Levin, there was no Brown Act violation. They talked about the Los Angeles Dodgers and their chances in the then upcoming 2012 season. Nothing more.

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    1. Why wasn't MaryAnn MacGillivray invited? She was on this council at that time?

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    2. It was probably a strategy meeting with the City Atty to decide how to deal with her. She was interfering with the development agenda.

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    3. I hear drought tolerant plants came up.

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  9. Mod - You are suggesting that we might be paying the legal costs of someone who is working against our interests?

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  10. You need to come to terms with the bunch you are dealing with.They are simply covering their tracks like all thieves do.

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  11. Look, John Gillison, played the same obstructionist game. These city managers never want the public to know about the MILLIONS of dollars spent on legal fees. My public records requests for the legal bills were met with a saucy smirk, repeatedly.

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  12. On a similar note, Jones and Mayer, the SGVCOG attorney pitches the Nick Conway demand for legal services tonight. It seems that when Nick wrote his own contract, he put a clause in that said the COG has to pay all his legal fees. They are hiring Nick's employees, and continuing to pay him $42,000 a month to do nothing. This has allowed him to buy the best paid lawyers taxpayers can buy, and sets up the COG for bankruptcy after Conway sues if legal fees are not paid. Jones and Mayer is already making a fortune on this. The COG will go away, but Conway will have a truckload of money, although he might be in the joint for a year or so.

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    1. Conway is like a parasite that consumes its host. Hopefully the Judge will include some hefty fines along with that prison sentence.

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    2. If the COG had leadership intead of buffet masters, they would have cut off Conway and sued him for taking money where he had a conflict of interest.

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    3. They sold their souls for mashed potatoes.

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  13. Redacting is legal and necessary. I should know I've redacted literally hundreds of documents in response to a PRA. That being said, the City Manager's heavy handed black blobs look more like a FOI response from the CIA. Redacting is done to protect information that would compromise an employee, a citizen, a pending (or suspected) legal action but come on, in this berg redacting to obscure case names that appear in the City Council Agenda?

    I suggest flooding City Hall with PRAs - individual requests for every case name mentioned since the date that C&L was awarded the City Attorney contract. The law is they have 10 days to respond i.e. to let you know if/if not they have the document and an additional two weeks to produce the document. Grind them to a stop.

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    1. Elaine is, to use the Nixonian word, stonewalling. Give up nothing. What she is covering up now is three or four layers above what she really wants to hide.

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    2. Absolutely!There is no need to back off.It is regrettable that the public is left with using tactics in an attempt to force the City to obey the law.

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    3. FYI, some parents in arizona tried exactly this and the result was that a court found that because their primary goal was to 'grind things to a halt' that the PRAs were thus invalid. Maybe even mentioning that a goal is simply to find something juicy would also bring into question the actual need. ;-)
      Personally, I wish all PRA responses would be posted in a single place where everyone could see everyone else's PRAs. It seems ridiculous to assume any 'public' information is only public for just one person.

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    4. So you don't think that the law firm supplying a city's atty taking 4 city council members out to dinner while excluding entirely the 5th in any way presents a problem? Particularly when that 5th councilmember represents the faction in town that the other 4 oppose?

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    5. Are you talking to me? If so, where did you get anything close to that from my comments? Anyway, if Im not mistaken, it was 3 council members and not 4. Regardless, 3 is a brown act violation for a 5 member board if the topic was the same. So no, I dont think its 'ok'. And it doesnt matter what factions anyone represents. Even if they all were on the same 'side' it would still be a violation.

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    6. Just wanted to make sure. Remember, you're the guy who thought Measure A would be just fine for Sierra Madre.

      Oh, and Joe Mosca was in SF for the League meeting last year. Just because he didn't file a report with Sacramento doesn't mean he wasn't there. Joe is pretty flaky, you know.

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    7. No what I said about measure a is either you're for local representation or you're not. Voting against measure a means you're not. Complaining you don't have it soon enough means you are. I also said voting against it would cost the district more money than voting against it. Of course that is less of an issue for sm since they can raise money to pay for the things other schools can't afford.

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    8. sorry, the perils of typing on a cell phone while riding your bike and juggling chainsaws.. i meant voting against it would cost the district more money than voting for it, and since the outcome would have been the same, that makes no sense.

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    9. You know, if Sierra Madre knew that being denied the right to a representative on the Board of Education until 2 years after the wards that members of the redistricting commission carved out for themselves to run in would save money, then maybe the "no" votes wouldn't have carried here. Darn.

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    10. Too bad people weren't paying enough attention when it mattered and could have avoided this situation altogether. But I guess its much easier to just be a naysayer after the fact.

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    11. Resident apathy can be a problem, no doubt But then again most hard working people depend upon the honesty and commitment of those selected to represent them. They expect it, and have a right to that. Unfortunately in this case they got a rather shiftless bunch only interested in either their own personal agendas or kissing butt for political advantages later on. Pretty standard for a PUSD situation.

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    12. Navigio - Here's what I paid attention to...a redistricting commission that went from a numbering system to identify the sub-geographic districts, and the year that the district would vote, at the beginning of the process, then changed to a months long process of using letters.

      Sierra Madre was originally placed in a district that was to vote in 2013. So, during the many months this task force met, there was no mention of changing the year to vote for the sub-geographic district until the very end. In fact, the numbering was revealed at the very last moment. The districts MOST affected by this slimy change were Northeast Pasadena, Southeast Pasadena, Northeast Altadena, and Sierra Madre.

      But, here's the worst part of it - those idiot task force members (especially Sierra Madre's representative who says he was "out of the country when the decisions were being made") purposely and deceitfully held task force meetings in Northwest Pasadena and Northwest Altadena - about as far away from the two districts that were most affected. No wonder there was no outrage. Should Sierra Madre residents have to travel over to West Altadena and Pasadena to find out they're being thrown under the bus?

      My guess is that you're one of those PUSD wonks, or better yet, one of those Peter Dreir apostles.

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    13. fair enough. But by most accounts, the district saved you money by choosing the active redistricting route so they arguably did represent you there. the taskforce also had months of meetings via which the public provided input into the maps that some are calling the work of sitting board members. they even used an online tool in which anyone could have provided alternative maps. given the federal and state limitations on district boundaries, and the residence patterns of this district, there were not really that many viable (legal) options. Everyone living here would have ended up in one district or another. I actually suggested having elections in all the districts and even having more board members for a couple years. of course that all costs money and no one was willing to step up and pay so solutions like that were dismissed. And you're right, no one paying attention is pretty standard for a pusd situation..

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    14. 7:16, actually what i meant by paying attention was when the task force was first created. An alternative would have been not to have the task force at all and live with the risk (and cost) of a lawsuit that forced the district to adopt subdistricts anyway (I think the same idea was rejected 10 years ago). In talking with board members, it appears the reason that was not a realistic option this time was the threat of an imminent lawsuit and that the cost of that would have greatly outweighed the cost of the task force and ballot measure.
      That said, if the community had said 'no' at that point and been willing to step up to cover the cost of any lawsuit, then the task force would not have been needed.
      To be honest, I think the districting process has shown that the voting rights act can sometimes backfire, and ours seems like a district where that will probably happen. That makes it seem we would have been less likely to have lost a lawsuit (though I dont think any has won one yet).
      And maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, but the years for when the election would happen was based on whether the district number was even or odd. Did it just work out that way or was that an attempt to make it random?

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    15. None of what you have said here justifies the abuse accorded Sierra Madre by these dirtbags.

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    16. Well, that's just it, Nav. Sierra Madre was an odd year in the beginning of the process when numbers were being used. Then the magical letters appeared. That way they could hide the ball until the very end and renumber to benefit their friends, and apparently themselves, since we are hearing that one or more of the task force members are rumored to be running in the 2013 election.

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    17. Answer this, Navigio. Why was screwing Sierra Madre out of equal representation necessary to avoiding this lawsuit?

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    18. SM didnt get screwed. It still has representation and still will after the 2013 elections. In fact, SM will have at-large representation for 2 more years than a number of other areas, and since most people seem to feel that at-large representation is more effective than local representation, maybe that is actually a good thing?

      The lawsuit would have just been a result of not moving toward districting, not necessarily how that is done (though it will be ironic if someone challenges the plan that measure a implements)..

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    19. So the wards that the redistricting cabal favored with their own candidacies get an exclusive rep and at-large representation, and Sierra Madre only gets at-large representation. How is this good? And who will that at-large representative be? None other than Ed Honowitz's Big Boy, Tom Selinske.

      Give it up, Navigio. You're starting to sound like Joe Mosca.

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    20. i believe phelps and miramontes voted against the districting plan. they are both up for election in the first round. i expect youre not referring to them? there will still be 3 at-large reps, kenne, cooper and selinske. to be honest, even as an at-large rep kenne is probably more effective than any exclusive rep. anyway, sm wants this to be about them and nothing i can say will change that. i just wanted to clarify what i actually said about measure a since it was mis-characterized.

      and i know people arent going to be believe this, but board members have said even though election is by local districts, all board members are still required to represent all members of the district. in other words, the change is more about how the makeup of the board is determined not how they represent people. have fun with that one.. ;-)

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    21. Red herrings and BS, Nav. Some districts get exclusive representation in 2013, and Sierra Madre doesn't get it until 2015. Done so certain special people from the redistricting commission can get on the Board in 2013. PUSD is run by a bunch of crooks and you must be one of them.

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    22. no, believe it or not, there are actually community members who believe public education is important. one does not have to work for pusd to believe that. and more importantly, one does not have to agree with the district all the time to believe that either. i wish more people were able to grasp that distinction, but alas..

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    23. We're talking about stolen rights here, Nav. Save the schmaltz for the chumps.

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    24. I wish we were talking about the issue, but we're not: you claimed I was a crook and work for the district. That has nothing to do with stolen rights. and look, I said I believe if any districting members end up running it would not only be wrong, but that i would work against their being elected. in other words, I actually AGREE on the problem of even the appearance of stolen rights. what i dont agree on is that voting down measure a was the best way to address that. i dont get why that is so hard to understand.

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    25. Where you are coming from is very easy to understand. That you believe you are making sense is difficult to fathom. Go feed pigeons or something, will you? It is far more honorable than flacking for crooks.

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    26. pigeons can fend for themselves. kids cant, at least not in the political environment in this town. just one last question: why do sm schools raise so much money for their schools if money doesnt matter for their kids' education?

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    27. That is not the issue.

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    28. i beg to differ. i believe the district would be demonized by many regardless of who were running it or even what they were doing. the fact that schools that can afford it raise so much money shows there is a lack of resources. the fact that those resources are denied to schools that cant afford it shows that voters are not interested in having the district succeed, at least not at their expense. that is not surprising given that so few people actually have a personal stake in the district anymore.
      I wish people could be more objective about the district's behavior, and not assume that just because someone expresses an opinion that seems to support the district on one issue that they are suddenly partisan hacks and blindly support everything they do. But the fact is too many people simply dont trust the district (sometimes for very good reasons, sometimes because they simply dont understand it), and nothing is going to change their minds (i had people tell me they didnt vote for measure cc because they didnt like percy clark :-P ).

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    29. This is so offensive. You cannot recognize the very real and important issue. Instead we get smiley faces and a bunch of meaningless crap. Go away.

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    30. please re-read my posts. I actually agree with you on 'the issue' if it turns out to be true. and thats not a smiley face.

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  14. Off-Topic, but just came across this troll-welcome on a website:

    "Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous."

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    1. Just as long as people are having fun.

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  15. What you do is approach a disguntled city or law firm employee, while at lunch and slip them some payola to get the information.

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  16. Elaine rules her employees with an iron fist. No amount of payola will get you information she doesn't want to give out lest someone lose their job. And jobs are scarce these days. To entirely black out all relevant information is typical of Elaine's tatics of keeping everything under her control. She truly carries privacy to the ultimate extent. Until now, she wouldn't even reveal who had applied for a Commission or committee until the night of the appointments. She cited privacy as her excuse. Thank goodness for Capoccia and Koerber for finally breaking that stalemate.

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    1. We need disclosure ,not a coverup.Time for a replacement.This community needs more openness and less deceit.

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    2. Yes. We don't need "outside professionals" telling us how to run our town.

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  17. When Josh and Elaine sit down to talk through issues and policies, who do you think wears the pants?

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    1. I know who thinks he wears the pants.

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    2. Toss up. They both do.

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    3. At least there is one place where Josh is treated like he is in charge. Of course, that it is the person who is really in charge that makes him feel that way only adds to the comedy.

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    4. I'll be betting that Elaine Aguilar considers Josh Moran a fool.
      Nancy Walsh as well. Say what you will about Elaine, but she's no fool. She's a smart lady, unfortunately being paid by very dishonest bad people.

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    5. Such is life in Moranistan. Or is is Moscovia? Hard to keep track.

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    6. The Soviets had a term for people like Josh and Nancy. Useful idiots.

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  18. This was my concern the first time this came up.
    Did C & L wine and dine three of our council people?
    Yes. On different nights - 2 and then 1, I think.
    Did C & L unquestionably know how to manipulate said council people?
    Yes, and yes again.
    Are C & L so stupid that they would overtly talk about something that would constitute a serial meeting or any other violation of the brown Act?
    No.

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    1. Mosca was there as well. He didn't file a report with Sacramento because he is a flake.

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    2. Are C&L stupid enough to trigger a Brown Act violation at a dinner with the Gang of 4? Of course not. But they are arrogant enough to think they could and then get away with it.

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    3. C&L thought no one would notice. They were wrong.

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  19. C & L knew full well that they were dealing with people of suspect intellectual capacity, and thus, would be scrupulously careful to avoid anything that blabbermouths would damage when they predictably told their friends. I don't think anything can be proven that would back up a Brown Act violation.

    Not that it didn't happen; just that it couldn't be proven.

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