Friday, October 24, 2003
C.A. Upholds Eviction of Anti-Smut Protesters From Strip Mall
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Pico Rivera pastor and members of his church did not have a constitutional right to continue picketing in front of an adult entertainment business located in a local strip mall, particularly after the protests turned violent, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
The California Constitution’s “liberty of speech” clause has been held to create a right to engage in free expression on private property in some circumstances, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz acknowledged. But Munoz, writing for Div. Seven on assignment, said Superior Court Judge George H. Wu did not err in enjoining Richard Ochoa and member of the Lord’s Vineyard from continued picketing at the mini mall about 1,000 feet from the church.
“A balancing test is required to evaluate the Mall owners’ property rights against the protestors’ free speech rights,” and both the nature of the property and the extent of the protesters’ interference with the plaintiffs’ business had to be taken into consideration, Munoz explained.
Ochoa and members of his church had picketed outside Imperial Showgirls, which occupies four of 16 units in the mall, since February of last year, shortly after the business opened. The protests continued for nearly two months before the mall owners and the owners of the club joined in a suit for injunctive relief.
The complaint asked that the protests be limited to the public sidewalk, “leaving appropriate spaces for patrons of the businesses at the strip mall to be able to enter the parking area and patronize the various businesses.”
Ochoa responded, denying that the protests had been disorderly. Although there were 300 demonstrators the first day, he said, the usual number was eight to 15.
Ochoa denied that businesses or patrons had been interfered with. He produced declarations from the owners of two businesses in the mall, a hair salon and a donut shop, who said they had no problems with the protesters.
He added that the public sidewalk was about 100 feet from the club, and said it would be unsafe as a venue for demonstrating since it was narrow and bordered a busy street. He also expressed fear the public would misunderstand his message as being a call for a general boycott of the mall premises.
But LeRoy Smith, one of the owners of Imperial Showgirls, said in his declaration that the protests had been anything but peaceful. He accused the protesters of having committed various acts of vandalism, battery, and theft, including attacking his vehicle while he drove it into the parking lot one day, causing $1,000 worth of damage.
Demonstrators also damaged the club building, destroying the locks, and on one occasion forced the club to shut down by pulling six vehicles up to the front of the club and leaning on their car horns for 15 minutes, Smith declared.
On July 31 of last year, the parties appeared for a court hearing but reached an agreement on a stipulated injunction. It limited the number of picketers to between five and 12 on any given day, required that they stick to a 13-foot private sidewalk eight feet in front of the club, and barred physical contact with patrons.
The demonstrators would have to be identified on a list, to be made available to the court or police upon request, and would be limited to “normal polite protest conduct.” The injunction was to remain in effect for two months pending a further court hearing.
The stipulation failed to resolve the matter, however, as the protests again turned raucous, the plaintiffs claimed. At a hearing, the plaintiffs produced a videotape showing demonstrators blowing whistles, coming directly in front of the club, and exceeding the protester limit.
Munoz agreed with the trial judge that the violations of the injunction, together with the limited nature of the business done at the strip mall, justified banning the protesters from marching anywhere except on the public sidewalk.
The case is Slauson Partnership v. Ochoa, 03 S.O.S. 5463.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company