- Reporters Desk
Censorship of Freedom at Los Angeles Superior Courts Revealed
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
I believe that the Founding Fathers of our republic enshrined the free exercise of religion, protection of free speech and freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights because they were the liberties that were the first to be abused.
History has proven them right and nothing has really changed. Free speech is still the first victim to an overreaching government.
Take for example a letter I received from the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Executive Officer Clerk Sherri R. Carter, just a few days after our past front page story ran, “Stop Or We’ll Shoot” (July 11-24, 2014 Rln). This story challenged the use of force policy at the Long Beach Police Department, whose chief, Jim McDonnell, now is running for Los Angeles County Sheriff.
The letter, titled “Re: Removal of all publications from the courthouse,” was prefaced with the following:
The Los Angeles Superior Court is concerned with ensuring the safe and orderly use of court facilities, maintaining proper judicial decorum in the courthouse and minimizing the activities which may disrupt or interfere with the orderly and peaceable conduct of the court business in a neutral forum free of actual or perceived partiality, bias, prejudice or favoritism. The court has a long standing General Order (copy attached) designed to achieve these goals in a content-neutral fashion.
It appears they are aiming to achieve this faux impartiality by excluding newspapers from the courthouse.
Carter attached a copy of the General Order (page 1 and 2) reflecting the rules pertaining to news publications in court houses. The document was date stamped Feb. 22, 2013. This, of course, immediately calls into question the part of this being a “long standing General Order.”
The letter goes on to state that the court conducted a survey of facilities, revealing, “that numerous magazines and periodicals, including yours, are being distributed at one or more courthouse locations in violation of the General Order. Carter’s office then requested that we remove any news racks, stands or similar dispensers not later than Aug. 1, 2014.
The curious part of this “survey” is that since the closing of the San Pedro Courthouse, more than a year ago, this newspaper hasn’t been distributed inside a courthouse. And, that the last time anyone distributed papers inside of the Long Beach Courthouse was when I was last called to jury duty, which predates the San Pedro closure. Some of you may recall me writing about my exercise in judicial dysfunction when I told the truth, under oath, to the judge about two black defendants not getting a fair trial in the Long Beach court.
However, Random Lengths News is not the only publication that is targeted by this General Order. All publications are being targeted unless the publication is sanctioned as acceptable by a third party vendor inside the courthouse. So now, our press freedoms are being adjudicated by a commercial vendor? This has got to be completely unconstitutional. The real crime here is not the outright censoring of what gets written, but the censoring — through prohibition — of the free distribution of ideas in a public space. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to fight this battle. Judges, school principals and city bureaucrats are often wanten to “control the dissemination” of publications, whose content they can’t control by other means.
It doesn’t stop there, the General Order goes on to prohibit “Demonstrations, Distributions, Solicitation and other Expressive Activity,” meaning that all of you who might also wish to otherwise petition the government for a redress of your grievances can’t do it at a public courthouse or anywhere “within 25 feet from either side of, or in front of the intersection of a courthouse walkway, let alone the public sidewalk near a courthouse. Read the full text of the General Order and the accompanying letter on our website.
My complaint is with the terms: distributions, solicitations and other expressive activity in the General Order. This language is overly vague and does not in any way accomplish the intended goal of providing, “ a neutral forum free of actual or received partiality…etc.”
With the advent of WiFi access at many courthouses and the universal availability of the Internet on any smartphone, this General Order is impossible to enforce, yet the presiding Judge David S. Wesley, insists upon enforcing it on traditional press distribution methods and other forms of protected speech such as newspapers, flyers and people demonstrating. This is an affront to our common liberty of free speech. It is an erosion of our fundamental right to read what we choose and where we choose. This is an affront on our right to pick up such publications unfettered by the edicts of an overzealous government, no matter how cloaked it is in black judicial robes.
Judge Wesley’s General Order is a violation of our right to free expression enunciated in our Bill of Rights. His order is so vaguely written and prejudicial in its enforcement that it constitutes a prima facie case of government sponsored censorship. This General Order just calls out for some exquisite form of civil disobedience to reverse this miscarriage of judicial administration.