Meetings of the governing
bodies of public institutions and agencies must be, by law, in the public
eye - however, there are some exceptions to this. Among these are personnel
issues, labor negotiations, and issues with individual students (such
as expulsion hearings). Whenever there is a closed session meeting, the
agenda and minutes will state the government or educational code which
allows or mandates that the meeting be in closed session.
Government Code 54956.9
basically says that the governing body of a public agency may meet in
closed session with legal counsel when there is pending litigation against
the agency or there is a "significant exposure to litigation"
against the local agency. In this particular case, the board has cited
3(c) as the source of the exposure (upon legal counsel). The full text
of that section of the code is as follows:
54956.9. Nothing in
this chapter shall be construed to prevent a
legislative body of a local agency, based on advice of its legal
counsel, from holding a closed session to confer with, or receive
advice from, its legal counsel regarding pending litigation when
discussion in open session concerning those matters would prejudice
the position of the local agency in the litigation.
For purposes of this chapter, all expressions of the lawyer-client
privilege other than those provided in this section are hereby
abrogated. This section is the exclusive expression of the
lawyer-client privilege for purposes of conducting closed-session
meetings pursuant to this chapter.
For purposes of this section, "litigation" includes any
adjudicatory proceeding, including eminent domain, before a court,
administrative body exercising its adjudicatory authority, hearing
officer, or arbitrator.
For purposes of this section, litigation shall be considered
pending when any of the following circumstances exist:
(a) Litigation, to which the local agency is a party, has been
(b) (1) A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the
legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal
counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a
significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.
(2) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative
body of the local agency is meeting only to decide whether a closed
session is authorized pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subdivision.
(3) For purposes of
paragraphs (1) and (2), "existing facts and
circumstances" shall consist only of one of the following:
(A) Facts and circumstances that might result in litigation
against the local agency but which the local agency believes are not
yet known to a potential plaintiff or plaintiffs, which facts and
circumstances need not be disclosed.
(B) Facts and circumstances, including, but not limited to, an
accident, disaster, incident, or transactional occurrence that might
result in litigation against the agency and that are known to a
potential plaintiff or plaintiffs, which facts or circumstances shall
be publicly stated on the agenda or announced.
(C) The receipt of a claim pursuant to the Tort Claims Act or some
other written communication from a potential plaintiff threatening
litigation, which claim or communication shall be available for
public inspection pursuant to Section 54957.5.
(D) A statement made by a person in an open and public meeting
threatening litigation on a specific matter within the responsibility
of the legislative body.
(E) A statement threatening litigation made by a person outside an
open and public meeting on a specific matter within the
responsibility of the legislative body so long as the official or
employee of the local agency receiving knowledge of the threat makes
a contemporaneous or other record of the statement prior to the
meeting, which record shall be available for public inspection
pursuant to Section 54957.5. The records so created need not
identify the alleged victim of unlawful or tortious sexual conduct or
anyone making the threat on their behalf, or identify a public
employee who is the alleged perpetrator of any unlawful or tortious
conduct upon which a threat of litigation is based, unless the
identity of the person has been publicly disclosed.
(F) Nothing in this section shall require disclosure of written
communications that are privileged and not subject to disclosure
pursuant to the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5
(commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1).
(c) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative
body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding
whether to initiate litigation.
Prior to holding a closed session pursuant to this section, the
legislative body of the local agency shall state on the agenda or
publicly announce the subdivision of this section that authorizes the
closed session. If the session is closed pursuant to subdivision
(a), the body shall state the title of or otherwise specifically
identify the litigation to be discussed, unless the body states that
to do so would jeopardize the agency's ability to effectuate service
of process upon one or more unserved parties, or that to do so would
jeopardize its ability to conclude existing settlement negotiations
to its advantage.
A local agency shall be considered to be a "party" or to have
"significant exposure to litigation" if an officer or employee
local agency is a party or has significant exposure to litigation
concerning prior or prospective activities or alleged activities
during the course and scope of that office or employment, including
litigation in which it is an issue whether an activity is outside the
course and scope of the office or employment.