Reasonable people may disagree about the law

Letter to the Editor

Posted: Monday, May 06, 2002

Related Link:

Speak candidly - in open meetings

Although reluctant to take issue with any editorial quoting me and a Chief Justice in the same breath, I am obliged to make a couple of points in response to Sunday's editorial about the Assembly meeting of April 29.

When the Empire's reporter asked to testify on the motion to recess into executive session, the mayor first asked me whether public testimony would be in order. I said it would not. This advice, as I explained in a message to the reporter and the mayor shortly after the meeting, was correct on statute, charter, and ordinance but not, I regret to say, on the Assembly's rules. Rule 14 clearly allows testimony in these circumstances. The error was mine, not the mayor's.

I am complimented by your reference to my 1986 memorandum on open meetings law, but relieved that you quote only its general statements.

After 16 years, only the generalities remain reliable: The Open Meetings Act was amended in 1994 and many important court decisions have been issued since then.

Finally, I submit that any criticism of the April 29 meeting should be tempered by the Assembly's final decision to open the doors. Reasonable people can disagree about the best way to approach transactions with a formidable industry. It should come as no surprise that some approaches require reconsideration.

Your trenchant quote of Chief Justice Burger is from Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980). Interestingly, his decision was joined by only two justices, each of whom also filed concurring opinions. Four other justices filed two concurring opinions; one justice dissented, and one abstained. Clearly, it is sometimes difficult for nine thoughtful people to agree on open meetings law.

John Corso

City & Borough Attorney



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