Appeal from Ramsey County District Court, Hon. James M. Campbell, Judge.
Heard, considered and decided by Daniel F. Foley, Presiding Judge, Fred C. Norton, Judge, and William J. Fleming, Judge.*
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norton
1. The trial court correctly determined that the attorney-client privilege exception to the open meeting law did not apply to the city council's scheduled meeting.
2. A governing body which seeks to close a public meeting must demonstrate that the need for confidentiality outweighs the public's right of access to public affairs.
The City of St. Paul and the St. Paul City Council appeal from a preemptory writ of mandamus ordering that a city council meeting for discussion of proposed city ordinance amendments be open to the public. We affirm.
For several months the St. Paul City Council had been considering proposed changes in city ordinances relative to on-sale liquor establishments and nude dancing. The proposed amendments intend to prevent liquor establishment patrons from viewing nude dancers through glass partitions which separate the liquor establishment from adjacent unlicensed premises.
The proposed amendments have undergone several changes during the hearing process. Some suggested changes have been controversial. One proposal would require license applicants to obtain the support of 60% of the property owners within 200 feet of the liquor establishment before the city council would consider the license applications. Attorneys for four affected businesses have submitted briefs to the city council in opposition to the proposed amendments.
On June 7, 1988, the city council scheduled a closed meeting for June 14, 1988. According to Assistant St. Paul City Attorney Philip Byrne the purpose of the meeting was to discuss threatened litigation over the proposed ordinances, including the strengths and weaknesses of the positions and issues involved.
On June 13, 1988, respondent brought a petition for a writ of mandamus. Respondent sought an order directing the city council to open the June 14 meeting to the public. The trial court heard arguments on the petition on the 13th, and issued its memorandum and order for a peremptory writ of mandamus later that day. The order directed the city council to open the scheduled meeting to the public. The city council did not hold a closed session on June 14, 1988.
On appeal, appellants contend that because litigation is threatened, the city council was entitled to close its meeting under the attorney-client privilege exception to the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.
The trial court stated that litigation over the proposed amendments was "a virtual certainty." The court determined, however, that the advice the city attorney sought to give the council was general legal advice. Accordingly, the court determined that the proposed discussions were not subject to the attorney-client privilege. The trial court further stated that even if privileged matters were to be discussed, the city must demonstrate that the need for confidentiality outweighed the right of the public to have access to public affairs. The city failed to ...