Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

City Beat

by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angees, Calif.

Printable version of this story

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 13, 2003 -- When a judge who is trying a controversial case here saw an American Reporter correspondent - dressed in a handsome black suit with a silver tie - sitting in his courtoom at about 4:30 in the afternoon recently, he was startled and chagrinned.

He demanded to know why the reporter was there, how long he had been present, and whether the doors to his courtroom were locked; they were not, the reporter said. Desks in the courtroom were piled high with legal documents apparently left there by attorneys who had departed for the day. The reporter asked to see a motion that had been filed by defendants earlier that day.

"That's not my job!" he snapped. The reporter thanked him, but with an angry scowl on his face, the judge ordered the reporter out of the courtroom.

"I had come to request a motion filed by defendants in the case that afternoon and I told him I thought the bailiff was still there because her blazer was hung on her chair," said the reporter. "He obviously thought the doors to the courtroom should have been locked, but it was only 4:30 in the afternoon."

Now, as part of an unrelated security upgrade, reporters who cover the nine-story Superior Court Courthouse in the downtown Los Angeles civic center are being required to provide copies of press passes from either the Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept. or the Los Angeles Police Dept. to deputies who guard the courthouse. They will be kept in a binder in order "to alleviate the problem of security personnel being able to recognize media people with assigned office space here."

"As you all know, there have been two tragic suicide/homicide incidents involving individuals jumping off or being thrown off the roof of this building. Accordingly, access to the roof area must be very tightly controlled. This policy is understandably inflexible," public information officer Allan Parrachini wrote in a Feb. 13 memo, addressed to "accredited occupants of the media center complex at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse."

Parrachini's memo was occasioned by an incident in which a reporter for a legal newspaper that publishes five days a week came to the courthouse to go to her office on a court holiday that fell in the middle of the week. Deputies had not recognized her, and she and they became upset that she couldn't gain access, although she finally did, according to that reporter and the courthouse press office.

The complex, which reporters want to rename the George Kreisberg Memorial Press Room for a reporter who died recently, is a newly-constructed group of small offices huddled on the roof of the courthouse just behind the cafeteria and accessible only by key after 2:15, when the cafeteria closes doors used by lunchtime visitors who want to smoke on the roof outside.

The press room was built last year to replace a warren of press offices on the second floor that have now been converted to provide a space for children whose guardians are attending Family Court proceedings on the same floor.

Meanwhile, concerns over security have also prompted a crackdown at the LAPD, one of the nation's most famous and controversial police agencies. Among those police have rejected for passes are staffers at the Los Angeles Times, CNN and The American Reporter, according to Lt. Horace Frank, head of the Media Relations Dept. at the LAPD, who asked a reporter afterwards not to name the publications.

"In the past there has been a liberal approach to the issuance of press passes, and there are people out there who ought not to have them. Our goal is to make sure that the passes go to people who ought to have them," he said Thursday.

As many as 4,000 passes may be in circulation in Los Angeles, Frank said, although not all are current. That figure was bandied about during the O.J. Simpson trial, when thousands of journalists requested them.

Rejection letters are going out, Frank said, citing the city's administrative code section, which calls for passes to be issued only to those who cover "spot news" and require access to police lines.

Appeals go to the Los Angeles Police Commission, and from there to the City Council.

Police Commissioner Bert Boeckmann said the impetus for the change did not come from the Police Commission.

"I'd like to understand myself what our reason is and what our standard is. I was not familiar with the fact that they are changing it at this time or that they were tightening requirements," Boeckmann said.

Frank also heard from police commission executive secretary Joe Gunn, whose secretary called him, he said. She later returned a call to The American Reporter and said an appeal would have to be made to the whole commission, and invited a reporter to put the matter on the commission's agenda.

LAPD spokesman Jason Lee said he could not comment on whether the police commission was informed.

"That's politics, and I can't talk about that," Lee said.

Frank, whom Lee said was in his office and then a few minutes later said he was not, did not comment further. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Times said editor John Carroll was in a meeting and not immediately available for comment.

"I didn't hear anything about that," said a CNN staffer, Alona Rivord. She referred inquiries to CNN's public relations department in Atlanta, Ga., which were closed for the day.

In another, more "political" incident last week, Judge Emilie Elias rejected a motion for a mistrial after Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo inadvertently carried an American Reporter article about that case into the jury room, where he - as an ordinary citizen - was sitting as foreman of the jury.

The article was passed around to most of the jurors, one of them said, and may have alerted some of them to pending settlement offers in a very similar case in Phoenix.

Elias denied access to the mistrial motion until the following day to The American Reporter, when the paper obtained it, saying her clerks were "busy." At least one other news agency was told by an Elias clerk the document had never been filed.

"These converging issues are central to any discussion of a free press," the American Reporter said in a statement. "Denial of access is a common way politicians try to control coverage in many nations and in many U.S. cities. But however uncomfortable access may make some public officials, it it critical to the processes of democracy and that is why it is enshrined in the Bill of Rights."

The American Reporter won the U.S. Supreme Court case entitled Joe Shea on behalf of The American Reporter v Reno in 1996, arguing that government could not censor a free press on the Internet or elsewhere.

It also joined a recent motion by the Los Angeles Times in Hiroshige's courtroom to unseal documents in the Pooh case, which had been sealed from public view for almost 11 years.

Access to the papers, which had been denied by California's Supreme Court two years earlier, was granted.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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