Judicial Watch Files Lawsuit against LA County Sheriff for Denying Press Interview with Inmate
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that fights government corruption and judicial abuse, announced today that it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Leslie Dutton and the American Association of Women against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Leroy D. Baca for denying Dutton’s “Full Disclosure Network” an opportunity to interview inmate Richard Fine. Mr. Fine is under incarceration indefinitely for contempt of court in Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail stemming from his legal efforts to counter alleged corruption in the Los Angeles County court system. Plaintiffs allege the Sheriff’s Department and Baca have violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Since April 2009, the Full Disclosure Network, an Emmy Award-winning public affairs program available on public access channels and over the Internet, has been attempting to interview Mr. Fine for its “Judicial Benefits and Court Corruption” series. The Full Disclosure Network and Mr. Fine have been highly critical of a “double dipping” scheme by Los Angeles County to compensate judges with benefits and perks they are already receiving from the state. (Judicial Watch has filed a separate lawsuit over this same issue.) The Full Disclosure Network has also been critical of the decision to incarcerate Mr. Fine.
According to Judicial Watch’s complaint, filed on January 27, 2010: “Defendants Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Baca have repeatedly denied Plaintiff Dutton’s and the American Association of Women’s requests to interview Mr. Fine at the Men’s Central Jail. [These denials] have been arbitrary and capricious, and, on information and belief, also have been unlawfully based, at least in part, on Plaintiff Dutton’s and the American Association of Women’s coverage and criticism of Mr. Fine’s continuing, indefinite incarceration for civil contempt.”
As the complaint notes, while Sheriff Baca has repeatedly denied the Full Disclosure Network’s requests for interviews, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times was granted access to an interview with Mr. Fine for an article published in the June 7, 2009 edition of the newspaper. In April 2009, a deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department informed Dutton no interview with Mr. Fine could take place because “the judge said so,” despite the fact that no copy of a court order to that effect was produced. In September 2009, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said that no interview could take place “because it was the policy of [Sheriff Baca] not to allow interviews of Mr. Fine.”
“It certainly appears Sheriff Baca was playing favorites with the press, denying our client the opportunity to interview Mr. Fine because he didn’t like what the network’s editorial content,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Obviously, it is constitutionally impermissible for law enforcement officers to target citizens because of the opinions they express. We hope other media rally to our cause in this fight to uphold the First Amendment.”