Show Barred From Empty Court May Have Case
(CN) - A broadcast journalist may have a First Amendment case against Los Angeles Superior Court officials for denying her access to an empty courtroom to film a documentary about alleged judicial corruption, the 9th Circuit held in an unpublished opinion.
Leslie Dutton, host and producer of the Full Disclosure Network, a public affairs program shown on the Internet and on public cable in Southern California, sued three Superior Court officials in 2012 after repeatedly being refused access to a courtroom to film portions of a documentary entitled "The Cost of Courage and Court Corruption."
According to the Full Disclosure Network and Judicial Watch, which represents Dutton and the American Association of Women in the case, the film is about the legal saga of Richard I. Fine, a disbarred attorney who served 18 months in jail for civil contempt related to his attempts to expose allegedly illegal, county-approved payments to judges in excess of their regular salaries.
Dutton claimed that the court officials had engaged in viewpoint discrimination by denying her access to the courtroom without explanation, while allowing CNN to film in the same space.
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real dismissed the complaint in Los Angeles in 2012, but a unanimous three-judge appellate panel revived the claims in an unpublished memorandum.
"The empty courtroom that the plaintiffs sought to access to film their documentary is either a nonpublic forum or a limited public forum," the unsigned ruling states. "Either way, speech restrictions are impermissible unless they are reasonable in light of the purposes served by the forum and viewpoint neutral."
The brief ruling also states that Dutton's complaint "includes enough factual content to permit the reasonable inference that the defendants denied the plaintiffs' request to access the courtroom because of the plaintiffs' viewpoint."
The case was remanded to Los Angeles for further consideration.
"We are elated with the ruling," Dutton said in a statement. "Not only will we have the opportunity to prove our case in court, but we are one step closer to completing the documentary we envisioned."