Fifth Circuit dismisses constitutionality case against state of Texas

By Ashley Stinnett | Sep 14, 2009

Abbott (R)

AUSTIN(Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has dismissed a lawsuit aimed at challenging the constitutionality of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

In February 2005, Avinash Rangra, then an Alpine city council member, was indicted for violating TOMA after sending e-mails discussing government business to other city council members. Rangra was charged with conducting an illegal secret meeting.

The charges were later dropped, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Rangra and former council member Anna Monclova sued the state, alleging TOMA violates the First Amendment. However both council members had already left office.

The court, by a 16-1 vote, ruled that TOMA no longer applies to either plaintiff, because Monclova vacated her council seat in May 2006 and Rangra left the council in May 2009.

"Open, transparent government is fundamental to our democratic system of government," Abbott said.

"The Texas Open Meetings Act ensures that elected officials conduct the taxpayers' business in the light of day and in a manner that informs the public about government decision-making.

"Texans have a right to know about their government, their elected representatives and the policies that are being adopted on the public's behalf."

A federal district court had rejected Rangra and Monclova's lawsuit, but a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit later sent the case back to the trial court to review TOMA under a stricter standard of review.

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