NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · TEXAS · Freedom of Information · Nov. 15, 2006
Open Meetings Act upheld as constitutional
Nov. 15, 2006 · A federal judge in Pecos rejected a challenge to the Texas Open Meetings Act by two city council members, finding that the law does not unconstitutionally infringe on public officials’ free speech rights.
U.S. District Judge Robert Junell upheld the Open Meetings Act as a constitutional method of ensuring that public officials keep public policy deliberations open, within the public’s view.
“The [Act] does not impede the freedom of speech; the Act simply requires speech . . . be made openly, and in the presence of interested public, as opposed to ‘behind closed doors,'” the judge wrote in his opinion last week.
Junell also ruled that the Texas Opens Meetings Act is neither too broad nor too vague to be constitutionally valid.
The case came about after City of Alpine Council members Avinash Rangra and Katie Elms-Lawrence were criminally indicted by a grand jury for violations of the open meetings statute based on e-mail messages discussing the hiring of an outside contractor, according to the opinion.
After the indictment, Rangra and fellow council member Anna Monclova filed suit seeking to have the Open Meetings Act ruled unconstitutional as a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The opinion also states that the indictment against both Rangra and Elms-Lawrence was later dismissed by District Attorney Frank Brown, one of the defendants in the council members’ lawsuit, and the statute of limitations for pursuing the case ran out last month.
(Rangra v. Brown) — LC