Violation of the Brown Act Attorney Fees

Section 54960.5 expressly provides the trial court with discretion to "award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the plaintiff in an action brought pursuant to Section 54960 or 54960.1 where it is found that a legislative body of the local agency has violated this chapter the Brown Act. "Such an award "is not mandatory, but rather a matter entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial court. Citations." (Frazer v. Dixon Unified School Dist. (1993) 18 Cal. App. 4th 781, 800 22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 641; Boyle v. City of Redondo Beach, supra, 70 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1120.) A condition precedent to a plaintiff's recovery of such fees and costs is a violation of the Brown Act. (Henderson v. Board of Education (1978) 78 Cal. App. 3d 875, 884 144 Cal. Rptr. 568.) Indeed, " the Brown Act provides specific legislative authorization for attorney's fees in actions brought to enforce a public policy in a context where actual recoverable damages are likely to be trivial. The damage is to the public integrity, and the fees are designed to make it economically feasible to rectify that damage by private legal means." (Common Cause v. Stirling (1981) 119 Cal. App. 3d 658, 664 174 Cal. Rptr. 200.) In exercising its discretion as to whether to award fees under this provision, the trial court should consider among other matters "the necessity for the lawsuit, lack of injury to the public, the likelihood the problem would have been solved by other means and the likelihood of recurrence of the unlawful act in the absence of the lawsuit." (Id. at p. 665; International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union v. Los Angeles Export Terminal, Inc. (1999) 69 Cal. App. 4th 287, 302 81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 456.) "When a cause of action for which attorney fees are provided by statute is joined with other causes of action for which attorney fees are not permitted, the prevailing party may recover only on the statutory cause of action. However, the joinder of causes of action should not dilute the right to attorney fees." (Akins v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. (2000) 79 Cal. App. 4th 1127, 1133 94 Cal. Rptr. 2d 448.) Upon determining an award of attorney fees and costs is appropriate under section 54960.5 for a Brown Act violation, apportionment of fees and costs similarly rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. (See San Dieguito Partnership v. San Dieguito River Valley Regional etc. Authority (1998) 61 Cal. App. 4th 910, 920 72 Cal. Rptr. 2d 91, disapproved on other grounds in PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal. 4th 1084, 1097, fn. 5 95 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198, 997 P.2d 511.) 'A trial court's exercise of discretion is abused only when its ruling " 'exceeds the bounds of reason, all of the circumstances before it being considered." (San Dieguito Partnership, supra, 61 Cal. App. 4th at p. 920, quoting Gonzales v. Personal Storage, Inc. (1997) 56 Cal. App. 4th 464, 479 65 Cal. Rptr. 2d 473.) Such fees need not be apportioned when incurred for representation on an issue common to both causes of action in which fees are proper and those in which they are not. (See Reynolds Metals Co. v. Alperson (1979) 25 Cal. 3d 124, 129-130 158 Cal. Rptr. 1, 599 P.2d 83.) Apportionment is not required when the claims for relief are so intertwined that it would be impracticable, if not impossible, to separate the attorney's time into compensable and noncompensable units. (See Akins v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., supra, 79 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1133; Abdallah v. United Savings Bank (1996) 43 Cal. App. 4th 1101, 1111 51 Cal. Rptr. 2d 286; Pearl, Cal. Attorney Fee Awards (Cont.Ed.Bar 1999) 6.28, p. 6-38.)