Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chaffee v. San Francisco Public Library Comm'n (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 21, 2005)

Here's a quick quiz for the statutory interpretation crowd.

A statute (here, a municipal ordinance) that allows public participation during proceedings of governmental bodies (here, the San Francisco Public Library Commission) provides that "each person wishing to speak on an item before the body at a regular or special meeting shall be permitted to be heard once for up to three minutes." Question: Can the governmental body, consistent with this statute, permit each public speaker to be heard for only two minutes, rather than three?

Follow-up Question: Does your answer to the previous question change if the predecessor statute to this one stated that each person who wished to speak on an item be heard "for not less than three minutes"? What if an early draft of the current statute contained this same language? Which way (if any) does that cut?

So what's your answer? Is it permissible under the statute to give everyone two minutes, rather than three?

Needless to say, this isn't a hypothetical. And Justice Rivera (a Smith College graduate, like my friends and Smith alums Judybeth Tropp and Piper Kerman) says . . . . It's fine. Agree?