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Tim Myers: Legal wheels slowly beginning to grind on library lawsuits

Myers' Musings

Posted: December 11, 2010 8:56 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2010 4:30 a.m.

For the group of people like me in our society who graduated from law school and even gained admission to the bar for a short time, but later eschewed the practice of law to make their living doing something else (in my case embracing the CPA side of my undergraduate educations), a few matters of legal knowledge continue to stick with us.

For me personally, this knowledge includes a basic understanding of the property concepts surrounding the  “rule against perpetuities” and a rudimentary knowledge of rules of evidence and procedure in civil cases.

Due to this interesting but personally useless knowledge — and a fair amount of e-mail correspondence with Don Ricketts, the local attorney and counsel for the group Save Our Library, and individuals running the litigation against the library takeover by the city — this column will hopefully serve to provide a primer concerning what will occur on and after Monday with the first scheduled hearing regarding the now consolidated legal matters.

Now anyone can file a lawsuit for anything in the United States just by filing the documents, serving the opposing party and paying the appropriate relatively minor fees. However, rules of procedure provide a defendant an ability to “demur” to such complaints on the grounds that they do not state a claim on which the courts can grant relief.

The best recent example of demurrers came up with the various loon litigation concerning the president’s birth certificate. When the plaintiffs filed their claims, various federal judges simply ruled that they would not even hear the so-called “merits” of the claim because they could not provide relief, since only Congress can remove a sitting president from office for any reason.

Similarly, while The Signal trumpeted in its own pages that the newspaper “won” the libel claim brought by one-time candidate Johnny Pride in small-claims court, the newspaper received a de facto demurrer. Since small-claims courts cannot hear libel or slander cases, the commissioner duly dismissed the case.

And so, we stand at the threshold of the first demurrer on effectively two claims, now consolidated, or theories of the matter to oppose the city takeover of the county library branches in Canyon Country, Newhall and Valencia.

One theory lays out a violation of the Brown Act, which Don Ricketts filed to support the efforts of a few local activists who maintained interest in that theory after the union representing library employees lost interest in the matter. I think the city might actually receive the dismissal it seeks.

While certain extremely technical provisions of the Brown Act allegedly occurred, the City Council upheld the spirit of the Brown Act, since they did vote on the matter in a public meeting after several hours of public testimony.

While one can assert a strong case regarding a hasty and ill-considered decision, that constitutes a matter of poor governance and not a violation of law.

Besides, the cure for a Brown Act violation generally revolves around holding some additional public meetings and arriving at the same conclusion anyway.

I personally hold out more hope for the second theory, that LSSI, the private entity contracted to run the city-seized libraries, cannot actually run the libraries, since California law does not allow them to handle private information of citizens.  This theory could set in motion a number of dominoes falling that would lead to inevitable reversal of the city decision, to wit:

1. California law does not allow the private entity LSSI to handle private information of citizens on behalf of the city;

2. Since one cannot measure the damage caused by the release of private information, the issuance of a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from contracting with Library Systems and Services LLC, stands the only appropriate remedy; and

3. Foreclosing the contract would change the economics such that they city would abandon the takeover.

What will happen Monday? The judge can undertake three options:
1. Dismiss the claims outright;

2. Affirm the claims and allow discovery to proceed in the matter;

3. Dismiss the claims but allow Save Our Library to amend the claim to cure any defects; or

4. Some combination of the above.

My personal guess includes a dismissal of the Brown Act claim with leave to amend and taking the confidentiality case under advisement. In any case, the parties will appeal certain orders, but that is a topic for another column.

 Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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