News - January 12, 2011

State bar dismisses complaint by Heyward Robinsion

by Sandy Brundage

The California State Bar has concluded that noted First Amendment attorney Terry Francke did not "willfully violate" its rules of professional conduct, in response to a complaint filed last month by a former Menlo Park councilman.

Heyward Robinson, who lost his bid for re-election, filed the complaint on Nov. 19. He said he is disappointed, but not surprised, by the outcome and won't pursue the issue further.

The complaint resulted from media coverage in the days before the Nov. 2 election.

The Daily Post ran two stories and an editorial that said three Menlo Park council members, including Mr. Robinson, had violated state law by exchanging e-mails discussing campaign issues. One story quoted Mr. Francke as declaring "a very serious Brown Act violation" had occurred.

Mr. Robinson later discovered the attorney hadn't read the e-mails before reaching that conclusion. Once Mr. Francke did view the e-mails, the day before the election, he retracted his statement and apologized, saying there was, in fact, no Brown Act issue. The Daily Post also retracted its stories.

The corrections came too late, according to Mr. Robinson, to repair any damage done to his campaign.

Mr. Francke has been active in pushing for open communication in government for 30 years. He served as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publisher's Association and the California First Amendment Coalition.

In 2004, he and his daughter, Emily, founded the California Aware nonprofit organization to advocate transparency in government and defend the state's historic Ralph M. Brown Act that mandates open meetings and adequate notification.

"Fast work," Mr. Francke said when asked for comment regarding the complaint's dismissal.


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