Thursday, March 31, 2005

Michaelis, Montanari & Johnson v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - March 29, 2005)

This case pits Justice Mosk, who dissents, against Justice Armstrong, who wrote the majority opinion. The USC Law graduate wins the vote. But the Harvard Law graduate gets it right.

The issue is whether a law firm was allowed under the California Public Records Act to obtain copies of proposals for the lease of a hangar facility at the Van Nuys airport after the deadline for submission had expired but before the City selected the successful bidder. The trial court held that the City of Los Angeles could delay disclosure of these competing proposals until after negotiations with the successful bidder had concluded. Justice Armstrong reversed. His basic argument was that there was no compelling interest in keeping these proposals secret because the proposals couldn't be changed after they were submitted, and that, in any event, disclosure would only help the City's bargaining position by revealing to the successful bidder "that there are competitive proposals waiting in the wings."

But Justice Mosk is entirely correct that the fact that there indisputably are post-submission negotiations proves that the proposals can -- and routinely are -- changed after the proposal submission date, presumably as the City negotiates with the sucessful bidder to clarify the bid and obtain an even better proposal. Contrary to Justice Armstrong's assumption, disclosure of the competing bids might well reveal that there aren't any competitive proposals waiting in the wings, thereby encouraging the successful bidder to refuse to budge during negotiations with the City. So there is indeed a substantial reason to withhold this information.

Sure, the records should be disclosed. The City should be permitted to negotiate with the successful bidder and, promptly after these negotiations have concluded, the records should be made public. That way the second-place (or any other frustrated) bidder can have all the information necessary to challenge the award and, if possible, demonstrate favoritism in the selection of the winner. But there's no good reason to harm the negotiating process by earlier disclosure. Which is why I'd have voted with Justice Mosk rather than Justice Armstrong. Unlike Justice Turner, a UCLA Law graduate who sides with his cross-town colleague from USC. And, in doing so, lets the panel reach an erroneous result.