Judge bars Malibu officials from destroying correspondence in Brown Act case

From left: City Manager Jim Thorsen, Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal, Mayor Pro Tem Joan House, Mayor Lou La Monte and Councilmen Skylar Peak and John Sibert. 

A judge on Tuesday denied a request from the Malibu city attorney that three city officials be exempt from questioning over allegations that the Malibu City Council violated state public open meeting laws. 

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant also barred several city staffers and elected officials from destroying or deleting any city-related correspondence that took place between January 1, 2012 and April 22, 2013, whether located on a personal device or work device. 

The judge’s orders came down in an ongoing lawsuit accusing city officials of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act by “secretly negotiating” a proposal to swap 532 acres of city-owned Charmlee Wilderness Park in western Malibu in exchange for 83 acres of Malibu Bluffs Park controlled by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. 

The suit was filed in April by longstanding civic group Malibu Township Council (MTC). MTC believes a majority of the council—Councilman Lou La Monte, Mayor Pro Tem Joan House and Councilman John Sibert—was aware of a potential swap before it was discussed in public on Jan. 14, hence violating the state’s Brown Act, an open meetings law. 

City attorney Christi Hogin’s office had requested House and Councilmembers Laura Rosenthal and Sibert be exempt from facing special interrogation and discovery requests. 

A trial setting conference is scheduled for July 18.