Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Metropolitan News Company Sues Cooley Over Warrant
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The company that publishes the Metropolitan News-Enterprise and Roger M. Grace, the paper’s editor and co-publisher, sued Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley yesterday over a May 2 raid by investigators executing a search warrant on the company’s downtown office.
The complaint by the Metropolitan News Company, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks injunctive and declaratory relief and damages and stems from investigators’ quest for documents they said related to a probe of possible government corruption in South Gate.
A group of about 10 investigators closed the company’s offices, located at 210 S. Spring St., for three hours, ordered reporters and other employees out of the building and threatened a search of all company offices, including the newsroom, as they served the warrant. The company, which also publishes several other newspapers, was one of 15 locations across the county where warrants were served in connection with the South Gate investigation.
The warrant, issued by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders, authorized a search of “all rooms, safes, locked boxes, files, desks, and other parts therein, the surrounding grounds, vehicles, storage areas, trash containers, and outbuildings of any kind—any containers including all purses and wallets found in the care/custody and/or control of ADVERTISEMENT, ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE, EDITING and/or ANY OFFICE WHICH CAN PROVIDE INFORMATION ON ALBRIGHT, YEE AND SCHMIDT [sic] PLACING PUBLICATIONS ON RECALL OF SOUTH GATE CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS.”
Albright, Yee & Schmit is a Los Angeles law firm that has done work for the city. Its offices were among the premises searched.
The documents sought by the district attorney were turned over by MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann W. Grace after telephone communication with Cooley and members of his staff.
In the complaint filed yesterday, Roger Grace and the company alleged that the search of the newspaper office violated 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000aa, the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, which bars execution of search warrants on news organizations unless there is probable cause to believe that the person who has the materials in question committed a crime, or unless seizure is necessary to prevent death or injury.
The search delayed completion of that day’s edition of the Los Angeles Bulletin, an afternoon daily, and limited the content of the next day’s MetNews, the complaint alleged.
The complaint seeks a declaration that the search violated the statute, which was enacted in response to a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling granting broad approval to the use of warrants for newsroom searches.
It also seeks damages for trespass, interference with business operations, and violation of civil rights; an injunction to bar Cooley “from countenancing, directing, or counseling persons acting under his supervision and control from drafting, seeking, or executing warrants for the search of news media premises” absent compliance with Sec. 2000a; and attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1021.5, the private attorney general statute.
Grace and the company also pled claims against Cooley for libel, based on a press release and a letter to the Los Angeles Times in which the plaintiffs were accused of having “refused to cooperate with a lawful search warrant” and “refused to comply with the court order.”
The company was under no legal compulsion to turn anything over to the district attorney and Cooley knew it, the complaint recites.
The suit was assigned to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan Buckner.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company