Thursday, August 21, 2003
Ninth Circuit Rejects Claim Over Failure to Leave Council Meeting
Court Rules Burbank Officials Did Not Violate Woman’s Rights by Filing Misdemeanor Charges
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Burbank police did not violate the constitutional rights of woman who was charged with obstructing a police officer and trespass when she refused to leave a City Council meeting, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The court said U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew of the Central District of California properly dismissed Theresa Karam’s civil rights suit. Karam claimed her Fourth and First Amendment rights were violated when the misdemeanor charges were filed against her.
Karam, a regular attendee at council meetings where she frequently voiced opposition to expansion of the Glendale-Burbank Airport, was asked to leave one meeting by Burbank Police Officer Shane Sindle, who told her the council chambers were filled to capacity. She did not leave, and later spoke at the meeting.
Sindle filed a report of the incident, which resulted in an investigation and the misdemeanor complaint, which a judge later dismissed.
Senior Judge David R. Thompson, writing for a three-judge panel that also included Judges Stephen S. Trott and Richard C. Tallman, said Karam’s Fourth Amendment claim failed because she was never subjected to a seizure.
He noted that Karam was never arrested, although she had to appear in court and was released on her own recognizance only on condition that she obtain court permission before leaving the state and make future appearances as required.
The Ninth Circuit, Thompson said, had not previously addressed “the question whether, absent an arrest, a seizure may occur by virtue of restrictions incident to pretrial release.” The appellate judge added:
“However, even if a seizure under the Fourth Amendment conceivably could occur as a result of some combination of pretrial release restrictions, no such seizure occurred here.
“Cases decided by our sister circuits in which they have concluded there was a seizure incident to a pre-trial release have involved conditions significantly more restrictive than those in the present case.”
Thompson cited cases from the Second, Third and Fifth Circuits in which individuals charged with felonies were held to have been seized based on pretrial conditions including such features as fingerprinting, posting of bond, weekly reporting, or prohibitions on travel. He noted that the Fifth Circuit decision, Evans v. Ball, 168 F.3d 856 (1999), relied partly on a concurring opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994), in which the justice wrote that a person facing “serious criminal charges is hardly freed from the state’s control upon his release from a police officer’s physical grip.”
“The present case does not involve circumstances comparable to those in Evans, Gallo [v. City of Philadelphia, 161 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 1998)], Murphy [v. Lynn, 118 F.3d 938 (2d Cir. 1997)], or Albright.. Karam was not charged with a felony. She was not required to report to anyone. All she had to do was show up for court appearances and obtain permission from the court if she wanted to leave the state. Obtaining such permission, while not burden-free, posed much less of a burden to her than it would to a person charged with a felony. And, with regard to the requirement to appear in court, that was no more burdensome than the promise to appear a motorist makes when issued a traffic citation....In sum, Karam’s OR release restrictions were de minimus.”
Karam’s claim that the charges against her were brought in retaliation for her appearances and remarks at council meetings were properly dismissed, since she failed to present any evidence for it, Thompson said.
Karam was represented on appeal by Steven W. Kerekes of Kerikes & Rivas in Beverly Hills. Burbank was represented by Richard R. Terzian, Kristin A. Pelletier, and Gregg M. Audet of the downtown Los Angeles firm of Bannan, Green, Frank & Terzian.
The case is Karam v. City of Burbank, 02-55954.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company