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News

EDITORIAL on Opinion page: Secret court of LA

web Seal of the Superior Court of California County of Los Angeles
Are you one of the 14,500 potential parties who missed the Aug. 17 case-management conference in the Ventura water adjudication lawsuit? (Remember the card we just got from the city of Ventura saying it is “not pursuing active litigation”?)
It turns out we were supposed to miss it, along with future proceedings related to this matter, because the “real” players attend the court in the safety of a group phone call (LACourtConnect) to which the public and media have no access.
The public is being effectively shut out under cover of COVID. A private adjudication court that clearly benefits the city of Ventura has been created. The Ojai Valley News can use your help to change that.
The public has a right to attend any hearing, but during a pandemic, a Superior Court, like every other agency, takes steps to protect its proceedings. The Los Angeles Superior Court website states: June 11, 2020, by Presiding Judge Brazile, “The Court is reopening under its ‘Here For You — Safe For You’ initiative to provide a safe courthouse environment while offering services that allow court business to be conducted remotely." On the same page it says, “LACourtConnect is not available for use by the news media or general public.” With that rule, the court has created a protected class and a secret adjudication court whose secrecy favors the plaintiffs. On that basis, the decisions made by this court may be appealable.
Reducing access to the public may be the expedient way to dispense justice, but it’s not the only way. Ventura County Superior Court offers free and safe access to everyone with telephone access and the ability to listen to proceedings through an online public access portal called “Court Connect,” that the Los Angeles Superior Court has recently abandoned. The San Diego, Sacramento and Monterey Superior courts provide equal access to all court users with livestream proceedings on YouTube for public viewing.
Backstory: The city of Ventura has served a notice or summons to every person and every well owner in the Ojai Valley (the Ventura River watershed), in a cross-complaint to a lawsuit against it from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper over preventing sufficient river flow for steelhead trout. Rather than reduce its use or pursue a physical solution, it opted to spend more than $5 million (so far) in taxpayer money on Walnut Creek lawyers and a marketing firm to sue every water user in the Ojai Valley in a vicious grab for water rights via a court adjudication of the basin, in a process that could take 10 to 20 years and bankrupt many defending themselves along the way.
 
The case is happening two hours away from the Ojai Valley, which is extremely challenging for respondents and our local media to attend in the best of times, but now that lives may be at stake, the court has gone the extra mile to protect certain people; is it a surprise the attorneys win again? 
The people of the Ojai Valley, who have rights involved in this case but do not own a well, and did not hire attorneys, are unlikely to learn about or understand these complex proceedings without the reporting of the Ojai Valley News. Our small-town independent newspaper is the only local news source for 20,000 people (the respondents), and we lack the resources to keep a vigilant reporter presence in the Los Angeles Court. Furthermore, no one in our community should be required to accept a health risk that the attorneys in this case are not expected to take. The court should have the same regard for, and provide the same safe space to, the community most affected by Ventura’s attack as the city of Ventura lawyers at Best Best and Krieger now enjoy.
It appears the Superior Court of Los Angeles has used a pandemic to carve out a special rule for attorneys and agents of the court, to the exclusion of the public and for the benefit of the city of Ventura in this case. 
Court proceedings should be open to the public and in a reasonable and equitable way. On behalf of the 14,000-plus respondents without representation and our media, the Ojai Valley News is asking for full, free, safe and meaningful access to the proceedings in Case No. 19STCP01176; we further request that free remote access to the public be made permanent. 
For your voice to be heard, contact:

— Los Angeles County Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
— Los Angeles County Superior Court public information officer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;
— Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
— State Attorney General: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
— Assemblymember Monique Limon: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
— State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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