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OVN EDITORIAL on OPINION page: Want justice? Take the train

As Los Angeles County COVID-19 numbers surge, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Highberger denied Ojai Valley News reporters remote access to the water adjudication lawsuit proceedings. 
The ruling against equal and meaningful access to the proceedings affecting thousands of Ojai Valley residents creates a constitutional problem. The ruling was handed down “with prejudice,” despite the valiant efforts of the Press Freedom and Transparency Team at the University of California Irvine School of Law, led by Susan Seager, Esq. 
Further support for the OVN came from a letter to Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile by the chief counsel at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. All to no avail.
Our small town and our small newspaper are looking ill-equipped to face the machine created by the 200 lawyers at Best Best & Krieger employed by the city of Ventura — a city that refuses to take responsibility for pumping too much water from the Ventura River during dry months, or to find other viable water sources to support its rapid-growth policies. 
Best Best & Krieger attorney Shawn Hagerty told the judge Tuesday that a settlement on the proposed “physical solution” was likely a few months away and that the entire case will then come to a close. That is a dubious claim, at best. 
The judge, who seemed to have little understanding of the case, appeared to believe Mr. Hagerty when he ruled that the Ojai Valley News is welcome to repeatedly send one of two full-time reporters to spend full days (plus overtime) to visit the pandemic-stricken county by train.
As the ACLU’s letter stated: “Public access to the court hearings and records is woven into the very fabric of our judicial system. The First Amendment's purpose is to ‘ensure that the individual citizen can effectively participate in and contribute to our republican system of self-government.’” It would cost the court nothing to include the Ojai Valley News in the LACourtConnect system it has in place. What’s more, at least 11 other counties have already provided remote access to their Superior Court proceedings by extending the media and the rest of the public the same regard for health and safety that the lawyers enjoy in Los Angeles, as a protected class.
Our community and the thousands noticed in this case to determine their water rights and their water rates for years to come, will not have full access to the facts and the story of the case without the reporting of the Ojai Valley News. We are working hard to preserve your right to know; if you, or someone you know is a named riparian cross-defendant in the lawsuit, whether or not you have filed your $435, and you want to assist the Ojai Valley News in gaining remote access to the proceedings for all, please call the office at 805-646-1476 and ask for Laura Ward or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We appreciate the community support of the Ojai Valley!

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