What to do if an Open Meeting Violation Occurs
Overview of Open Meetings Law and What to do if a Violation has Occurred
The Louisiana Open Meetings Law was enacted to ensure “that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.” The law must be interpreted in favor of openness.
The law grants the public the right to attend and record the deliberations of public bodies including city and parish governing bodies; school boards; levee boards; port commissions; boards of public utilities; planning, zoning and airport commissions; other state, local or special district boards, commissions or authorities with policy making, advisory or administrative functions; and committees or subcommittees of those bodies. Judicial proceedings are exempted.
All meetings must be open unless closed for reasons permitted by the law and according to procedures set by the law.
A “Meeting” is defined as the “convening” of a majority of the total membership of a public body to deliberate, act or receive information on a matter over which the body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power. The law does not apply to chance meetings or social gatherings at which no vote or other action, including polling members, is taken.
If you believe a violation of the open meetings law has occurred, here are some options. To be most effective, it is important to have as many details as possible about the violation.
Raising your concern during the meeting
If a citizen believes a violation of the open meetings law has occurred, they may be able to correct the situation by immediately bringing it to the attention of the public officials. A citizen can ask to speak or raise their hand to ask how a particular action is or is not in violation of the open meetings law.
Notifying the media
Oftentimes, inquiries by the media about potential open meeting violations can bring about corrective actions by public bodies.
Filing a complaint
Anyone may file a complaint with the state attorney general or a district attorney against a public body believed to have violated the law. The attorney general may enforce the law in any jurisdiction in the state; a district attorney may enforce the law with respect to public bodies within his jurisdiction. Both officials may institute proceedings on their own initiative; they must institute suit upon receiving a complaint unless they give written reasons for not doing so.
A template for a complaint letter is provided here.
In addition, an individual may file a civil suit to require compliance with, prevent violations of, determine the applicability of, or nullify any action taken in violation of the law. A suit to nullify an action taken by a public body must be commenced within 60 days of the action.
If the court determines that a public body violated the law, it will award reasonable attorney fees and other costs of litigation to the plaintiff. If partially successful, the plaintiff may be awarded reasonable attorney fees or a portion thereof. If a suit is found frivolous and unjustified, the plaintiff may have to pay reasonable attorney fees of the other party. A member of a public body who participates in an illegal meeting may be penalized up to $100 per violation.