Thursday, June 9, 2016
Supreme Court Issues Alternative Writ in Case of Ventura ‘Snoring Dog’ Judge Nancy Ayers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday issued an alternative writ of mandate in the case of Ventura Superior Court Judge Nancy Ayers.
The high court, without dissent, ordered the Commission on Judicial Performance to either withdraw the “stinger” letter that it issued to Ayers for keeping a service dog she was training in her courtroom, or to explain by July 7 why it should not be ordered to do so.
The commission said it acted in response to complaints by criminal defendants that proceedings had been disrupted by snores or other sounds from the dog, whom the judge kept at her feet. The judge denied the claim that the occasional sounds were disrupted, and presiding judges who allowed her to have the dog in court and attorneys who appeared before her have defended her.
The commission argued in its opposition to the judge’s writ petition that by having a dog in the courtroom, Ayers failed to “to ensure that her judicial duties take precedence over all other activities.” While her work with guide dogs is “laudable,” and it is appropriate that the dogs be trained in public facilities, the need for the judge to give undivided attention to proceedings renders it improper for Ayers to have the dog in court, the commission insisted.
In other action taken at yesterday’s conference in San Francisco, the justices unanimously left standing a ruling of this district’s Court of Appeal that Los Angeles city ordinances banning most new billboards in the city do not violate the free speech protections of the California Constitution.
Div. Eight in March reversed the ruling of then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin, since elevated to the Court of Appeal, that Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC’s rights were violated when the city denied its application to convert 45 existing offsite billboards to digital displays.
Justice Elizabeth Grimes, writing for the Court of Appeal, noted that the California Supreme Court upheld a similar San Diego ordinance decades ago, in a ruling the U.S. Supreme Court overturned solely due to its application to noncommercial speech. She also cited a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling upholding Corona’s ban on all new offsite commercial billboards.
The justice acknowledged that the high court of Oregon, which also has a free-speech clause in its constitution that has also been applied more broadly than the First Amendment, has accepted arguments like Lamar’s. But the opinion in that case is unpersuasive, she said, noting that many other states with free speech clauses in their constitutions have rejected challenges to sign ordinances.
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