Californians Aware v. Orange Unified School District

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Californians Awarevs.Orange Unified School District
Number: none
Year: 2006
State: California
Court: Supreme Court of California
Other lawsuits in California
Other lawsuits in 2006
Precedents include:
This case established that records of open meetings could be edited to redact information that was exempt from release.
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Californians Aware v. Orange Unified School District is a California case that was concluded on November 12, 2008, when the Supreme Court of California declined to hear a further appeal of a lower court's ruling.[1]

Important precedents

This case established that records of open meetings could be edited to redact information that was exempt from release.


The case began in 2006 when the Orange Unified School District transferred a high school principal after complaints from parents about his performance. Steve Rocco was at that time a member of the Board of Trustees of the OUSD. He objected at a board meeting to the board's decision to transfer the principal, believing instead that the principal should have been fired. In Rocco's remarks in the open portion of the school board meeting, Rocco made reference to facts about the principal that he had learned in an earlier closed session.

OUSD edits Rocco

OUSD then:

  • Edited Rocco's comments out of a DVD of the meeting in question. The edited version of the DVD was, as per the usual routine, distributed to local cable TV stations for airing. OUSD said that they did this because Rocco’s discussion of the principal’s reassignment "invaded the principal’s privacy and violated the Ralph M. Brown Act because it involved a personnel matter that was heard in closed session." Rocco, who habitually did not attend the Board's closed meetings, was not present at the closed session.[1][2]
  • Censured Rocco for his negative comments in the meeting and warned him not to repeat the offense.

Rocco, others file suit

Rocco at an OUSD board meeting

When this happened, Californians Aware, Steve Rocco, and Richard McKee filed a writ of mandamus action with Orange Superior Court Judge Clay M. Smith asking the judge to:

  • Overturn the censure.
  • Declare that the editing of the recording of the meeting was unlawful.

No monetary damages were sought.

OUSD counter-suit

The OUSD filed a counter-suit known as an anti-SLAPP suit. In their argument to the court, they said that Rocco, McKee and Californians Aware, by filing their original lawsuit, were attempting to suppress the free-speech rights of the school district.

Ruling of the court

District judge finds in favor of school

Judge Smith agreed with the school district and under the terms of California's anti-SLAPP laws, ordered the original plaintiffs (Rocco, CalAware and McKee) to pay the school district's legal fees of about $37,000.

Appeal ruling

The plaintiffs appealed Smith's decision to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, where judge William Bedsworth upheld the lower court's ruling.[3]

The state's highest court subsequently declined to hear a further appeal by the plaintiffs.

OUSD and McKee

After the OUSD won a judgment in its favor against Rocco, McKee, and Californians Aware, it garnished McKee's wages to pay the judgment and placed a lien on his home. As of March 2009, approximately $80,000 is still owed, while McKee has paid $59,000.[4]

Associated cases

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 SLAPP Ruling Against School Board Member Left Standing, November 13, 2008
  2. Recent Court Decisions Turn California Law Protecting Free Speech Into a Tool for Government Suppression of Public’s Speech and Access Rights—Action Needed by Supreme Court or Legislature, September 14, 2008
  3. Recent High-Profile Civil Rights Case Illustrates Necessity to Bond Anti-SLAPP Motion Awards During Appeal, September 13, 2008
  4. California courts rain on Sunshine Week, March 11, 2009