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10. Fines

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  • Alabama

    The Alabama Open Meetings Act is enforced by civil action and does not provide for any fines. See Ala. Code § 36-25A-9.

    Enforcement of the Alabama Open Meetings Act may be sought by civil action brought in the county where the governmental body's primary office is located. Such an action may be brought for failure of the governmental body to follow the notice requirements of the Act. Ala. Code § 36-25A-9(b)(1). Remedies available include declaratory judgments, injunctions, invalidation of actions taken during the meeting held in violation of the act, and civil penalty up to $1,000 or one half of the defendant’s monthly salary for the government body, whichever is less. Ala. Code § 36-25A-9 (f)–(g).

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  • Alaska

    There are no fines specified in the public meetings laws for violations.

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  • Arizona

    A civil penalty not to exceed five hundred dollars may be imposed against a person who violates or knowingly aids in the violation of the OML.  A.R.S. § 38-431.07(A).  Any penalty assessed shall be deposited in the public body’s general fund.  Id.

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  • Arkansas

    The FOIA contains no provisions for civil penalties or forfeitures. However, a person who negligently violates the FOIA is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and can be fined up to $500. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-4-104, 5-4-201, 5-4-401, 25-19-104.

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  • California

    There is no provision for fines for violation of the open meeting requirements of either of the Acts except those which may be imposed if a member is found to be guilty of a misdemeanor.

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  • Colorado

    Unlike the Open Records Act, the Open Meetings Law does not provide for fines or penalties for its violation.

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  • Connecticut

    See Records Outline at V.D.

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  • District of Columbia

    If the court finds that a member of a public body engages in a pattern or practice of willfully participating in one or more closed meetings in violation of the Act's provisions, it may impose a civil fine of not more than $250 per violation.  D.C. Code Ann. § 2-579(e).   

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  • Georgia

    The Act makes knowing and willful violation of its provisions a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00. Alternatively, a civil penalty may be imposed by the court in any civil action brought to enforce the Act against any person who negligently violates the Act’s terms, in an amount not to exceed $1,000.00 for the first violation. A civil penalty or criminal fine not to exceed $2,500.00 per violation may be imposed for each additional violation that the violator commits within a 12-month period from the date that the first penalty or fine was imposed. O.C.G.A. § 50-14-6.

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  • Hawaii

    No express provision.

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  • Idaho

    The Open Meeting Law provides for three levels of civil penalties. Idaho Code § 74-208(2) imposes a civil penalty not to exceed $250 for any member of the governing body who “conducts or participates in a meeting” which violates the Open Meeting Law. Idaho Code § 74-208(3) imposes a civil penalty not to exceed $1,500 upon any member of a governing body who “knowingly violates” the Open Meeting Act. And, Idaho Code § 74-208(4) provides that any member of a governing body who has violated the Open Meeting Act (knowingly or unintentionally) more than once in a twelve (12) month period shall be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500.
    Idaho Code § 74-208(7) was added to encourage and allow governing bodies to “cure” any violations of the Open Meeting Law. Under section 74-208(7)(a), a violation of the law may be cured by a public agency upon: (a) the agency’s self-recognition of a violation; or (b) the service of a complaint alleging a violation of the Law. Once the agency is put on notice of such a violation, it has 14 days to respond by either acknowledging a violation and an intent to cure it or determining that no violation has occurred. Failure to respond shall be treated as a denial for purposes of proceeding with any enforcement action. I.C. § 74-208(7)(a)(i)-(ii). If the agency acknowledges a violation, it has 14 days to cure the violation “by declaring that all actions taken at or resulting from the meeting in violation of this act void.” Idaho Code § 74-208(7)(b). All enforcement actions are stayed during the “response and cure” periods but may recommence at the discretion of the complainant after the cure period has expired. I.C. § 74-208(7)(c). An agency’s cure of an alleged violation “shall act as a bar to the imposition of the civil penalties” provided in the law. I.C. § 74-208(7)(d).

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  • Illinois

    The Illinois Open Meetings Act provides for civil remedies as well as criminal penalties for violations or impending violations of the Act.

    If a complaint has been filed by the State's Attorney, the court may impose penalties. Violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act is a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,500 or by imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both. See 730 ILCS 5/5-8-3, 5/5-9-1.

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  • Indiana

    The Open Door Law authorizes penalties in certain circumstances. See Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-7.5. The Act also provides defenses to civil penalties. Id. § 5-14-1.5-7.5(d). Notably, individuals are personally liable under the Act, unless directed by a public agency officer. Id. § 5-14-1.5-7.5(h), (k).

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  • Kansas

    Up to $500 per violation under K.S.A. 75-4320(a).

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  • Kentucky

    Upon a finding that the public agency willfully violated the Open Meetings Act, a Circuit Court, in its discretion, may award an amount not to exceed $100 to the complaining party for each instance in which the Court finds a violation. Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.848(6). Such award will be assessed against the agency responsible for the violation. Id.

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  • Louisiana

    Any member of a public body who "knowingly and willfully" participates in a meeting that violates the Open Meeting Law shall be personally liable for a civil penalty of up to $100 per violation. Suit must be instituted within sixty days of the violation. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42:13.

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  • Maine

    Fines may not be collected by private parties. If the District Attorney or Attorney General brings an action against the offending government entity, the government entity may be fined $500 for willful violations. 1 M.R.S.A. § 410.

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  • Maryland

    The Act provides for a civil penalty of up to $250 for the first violation and $1,000 for each subsequent violation occurring within 3 years after the first violation for any public body that willfully convenes a closed meeting knowing that it is being held in violation of the Act. § 3-402.

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  • Massachusetts

    A 1993 amendment allows a Court to impose a civil fine "against the government body" of up to $1,000 "for each meeting held in violation of this section." G.L. c.39, § 23B. Acts 1993, c.455. This amendment applies only to the municipal section of the OML. It has rarely, if ever, been invoked.

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  • Michigan

    Public officials who are found to have intentionally violated the OMA may be fined up to $1,000 under Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.272(1). A public official who is convicted of intentionally violating the act for a second time within the same term may be fined up to $2,000, or imprisoned for up to one year, or both. Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.272(2). This is a specific intent crime and the offender must have a subjective desire to violate OMA or knowledge that the offender is committing an act violative of OMA. People v Whitney, supra. The phrase "official" used in this section and in Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.273 is limited to the definition contained in People v. Freeland, 308 Mich. 449, 14 N.W.2d 62 (1944), and may not be expanded to public employees. 1977-78 Op. Att'y Gen. 21, 42 (1977). Five elements are indispensable in any position of public employment, in order to make it a public office of a civil nature:

    1. It must be created by the Constitution or by the legislature or created by a municipality or other body through authority conferred by the legislature;
    2. It must possess a delegation of a portion of the sovereign power of government, to be exercised for the benefit of the public;
    3. The powers conferred, and the duties to be discharged, must be defined, directly or impliedly, by the legislature or through legislative authority;
    4. The duties must be performed independently and without control of a superior power other than the law, unless they be those of an inferior or subordinate office, created or authorized by the legislature, and by it placed under the general control of a superior officer or body; and

    e. It must have some permanency and continuity, and not be only temporary or occasional.

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  • Montana

    Costs and reasonable attorney’s fees only.

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  • Nebraska

    Knowing violation of Open Meetings Act is Class IV misdemeanor for first violation and Class III misdemeanor for second and subsequent violations. Neb. Rev. Stat. §84-1414(4). Maximum penalty for Class IV misdemeanor is $500 fine; no imprisonment available. Neb. Rev. Stat. §28-106(1). Maximum penalty for Class III misdemeanor is three months imprisonment, $500 fine, or both. Id.

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  • Nevada

    A maximum of a $500 civil penalty.

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  • New Jersey

    On complaint of the Attorney General or the County Prosecutor, any person who knowingly violates any provision of the Sunshine Law shall be fined $100 for the first offense and $500 for any subsequent offense. N.J.S.A. 10:4-17.

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  • New Mexico

    Theoretically, the statute provides for fines of not more than $500, but fines are rarely pursued.  Two successful prosecutions have been reported from 1976 and 2002.  See NMSA 1978 § 10-15-4.

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  • North Carolina

    The North Carolina Open Meetings Law makes no provision for the imposition of fines or other penalties against public bodies or individual members of public bodies. However, the court may order that any or all of an attorney fees assessment be paid personally “by any individual member or members of the public body found by the court to have knowingly or intentionally committed the violation,” unless that individual sought and followed the advice of legal counsel.

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  • North Dakota

    For an intentional or knowing violation, the court may award damages in an amount equal to one thousand dollars or actual damages caused by the violation, whichever is greater. N.D.C.C. § 44-04-21.2(1).

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  • Ohio

    Where the court issues an injunction under the statute, the court "shall" order the enjoined public body to pay $500 to the person who successfully sought the injunction. Ohio Rev. Code § 121.22(I)(2); Specht v. Finnegan, 149 Ohio App. 3d 201, 776 N.E.2d 564, 2002-Ohio-4660 (Ohio App. 6th Dist.) (assessing a $500 fee for each unlawful meeting).

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  • Oklahoma

    Upon conviction in a misdemeanor action, a public official may be fined up to $500. See Hillary, supra.

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  • Oregon

    Fines may be imposed by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. ORS 192.685(1).

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  • Pennsylvania

    65 Pa. C.S.A. § 714 provides that any “member of any agency who participates in a meeting with the intent and purpose by that member of violating this act commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay:

    (1) For a first offense, the costs of prosecution plus a fine of at least $100 and, in the discretion of the sentencing authority, of not more than $1,000.

    (2) For a second or subsequent offense, the costs of prosecution plus a fine of at least $500 and, in the discretion of the sentencing authority, of not more than $2,000.

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  • Rhode Island

    The court may impose a civil fine not exceeding $5,000 against a public body or any of its members who have been found to have committed a willful violation of the OML, not to exceed $1,000 total fine for any meeting.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8(d).

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  • South Carolina

    The act provides for civil fines of five hundred dollars where the public body acted arbitrarily and capriciously in violating the act. S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-110(F).

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  • South Dakota

    No civil fine, but possible criminal fine of up to $200. SDCL §22-6-2.

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  • Tennessee

    Arguably, fines are available under a liberal reading of T.C.A. § 8-44-106(a), however, there is no reported case indicating that this has been done.  Based upon the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fannon as it relates to attorney’s fees, fines would be unlikely.

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  • Texas

    Pursuant to Section 551.144, a member of a governmental body who knowingly calls or aids in calling or organizing a special or called closed meeting, or who knowingly closes or aids in closing a regular meeting to the public, or who knowingly participates in a regular, special, or called meeting that is closed to the public, commits a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 or confinement in the county jail for not less than one month or more than six months, or both. It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that the member of the governmental body acted in reasonable reliance on a court order or a written interpretation of this Act contained in an opinion of a court of record, the attorney general, or the attorney for the governmental body.

    Section 551.143 provides that a member or group of members of a governmental body who knowingly conspires to circumvent the provisions of the Act by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in contravention of the Act commit a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 or confinement in the county jail for not less than one month or more than six months, or both.

    Section 551.145 provides that a “member of a governmental body commits an offense if the member participates in a closed meeting of the governmental body knowing that a certified agenda of the closed meeting is not being kept or that a tape recording of the closed meeting is not being made.” A violation of this subsection is a Class C misdemeanor.

    In Asgeirsson v. Abbott, the federal district court ruled that the criminal provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act did not violate a City Councilmember’s free speech rights. 773 F. Supp. 2d 684 (W.D. Tex. 2011), aff’d, 696 F.3d 454 (5th Cir. 2012).  Members of the Alpine City Council brought suit against the Attorney General after being indicted for violating the Act following an email exchange that allegedly constituted a closed meeting under Act.  Id. at 1. The indictments were later dismissed without prejudice.  The court stated that, pursuant to the Act, citizens are entitled not only to know what the government decides but also to observe how and why every decision is reached and that the explicit command of the Act is for openness at every stage of the deliberations.  Id. at 6.  Ultimately, the court held that the Act is not a violation of free speech and explained:

    [the Act] is not about censorship but rather about the disclosure of the speech in question. If [the Act’s] true aim was to suppress the content of a governmental body’s speech, then there would be no disclosure requirement. [The Act] is not directed at the content of the public official’s speech or the effect that speech might have on the general public. [The Act] is concerned with giving the public more access to their government. Thus, this Court finds that [the Act] does not suppress speech.

    Id. at 10.

    Under Section 551.146, an individual, corporation, or partnership commits an offense if, without lawful authority, he, she or it “knowingly discloses to a member of the public the certified agenda or tape recording of a meeting that was lawfully closed to the public” under the Act. An offense under Section 551.146 is a Class B misdemeanor and there is a provision for a civil remedy including actual damages (including damages for personal injury or damage), lost wages, defamation, or mental or other emotional distress as well as reasonable attorney fees and court costs and exemplary damages.  It is a defense to prosecution and an affirmative defense that the defendant had good reason to believe the disclosure was lawful or the disclosure was the result of a mistake of fact concerning the nature or content of the certified agenda or tape recording.

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  • Utah

    The Open Meetings Act does not establish any fines or penalties for violating the chapter.

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  • Vermont

    A person who is a member of a public body who knowingly and intentionally violates the open meeting law may be fined up to $500. 1 V.S.A. § 314(a).

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  • Virginia

    If the Court finds that the violation was willfully and knowingly made, it will impose upon the member of the public body, in his individual capacity, a civil penalty not less than $250.00 and not more than $1,000.00. The penalty for the second violation shall not be less than $1,000.00 nor more than $2,500.00. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3714.

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  • Washington

    The court may assess a civil penalty of $500 against each member of the governing body of the agency who attended the meeting knowing it was in violation of the OPMA, or $1,000 for subsequent violations. RCW 42.30.120(1)(2).

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  • West Virginia

    Section 7 of the Open Meetings Act provides that a knowing and willful violation of the Open Meetings Act by a member of a public or governmental body constitutes a misdemeanor. The Act provides for a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500. For second and subsequent offenses a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $1000 may be levied. W. Va. Code § 6-9A-7.

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  • Wisconsin

    The civil forfeiture is not less than $25 nor more than $300 per violation. Wis. Stat. § 19.96. These must be paid by the offending public officials who may not be reimbursed. Crawford v. City of Ashland, 134 Wis. 2d 369, 396 N.W.2d 781 (Wis. Ct. App. 1986).

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  • Wyoming

    A willful and knowing violation of the Act is punishable by a civil penalty of not more than $750.

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