Madera County Council Regina Garza, in a Feb. 14 prepared statement, announced the county and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has settled a lawsuit regarding California’s open meeting law, known as the Brown Act.
The ACLU filed suit in July of last year, alleging the board of supervisors violated the Brown Act during a March 7 closed session for a personnel evaluation of Madera County Chief of Corrections Manuel Perez - but used that time in the closed session to also ask Perez to begin honoring requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to inform the agency when the jail was holding and releasing undocumented immigrants with felony charges so they could be detained by immigration authorities.
The ACLU contended the board’s order to Perez was public business that needed to be noticed on an agenda and discussed in public. It requested the board hold an open discussion of the policy change, but the board declined to do so, claiming that any action it took with Perez was a personnel matter and not an “action” under the Brown Act laws.
According the statement, jointly released by the county and the ACLU, the lawsuit was prompted in part by statements District Attorney David Linn made to the media and in a press release asserting the board had taken action to expand the jail’s coordination with federal immigration authorities.
The ACLU’s lawsuit claimed that the board violated the open meetings requirements of the Brown Act by taking an action impacting the jail’s cooperation with immigration enforcement behind closed doors. The county maintains the statements by the Linn were inaccurate and unauthorized, that no action was taken by the board in closed session and no Brown Act violation occurred.
The county argued that there was no Brown Act violation during the closed session. Ultimately, the ACLU and the county agreed to resolve the matter and enter into a settlement agreement.
As part of the settlement, the Madera County chief of corrections will prepare a staff report describing existing jail policies with respect to communications with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and include an analysis of Senate Bill 54 (California Values Act). The chief of corrections will present the report to the board of supervisors in an open session on March 13. At a second public meeting on March 27, 2018.
“The ACLU commends the Madera County Board of Supervisors for entering into a settlement and for its commitment to comply with the Brown Act and to ensure transparency in its board meetings,” said Angelica Salceda, staff attorney for the ACLU.
Linn said he had been advised by his attorneys not to make any statement, due to pending legal action on his behalf.