Sun, Feb

Inglewood Mayor Celebrates Sunshine Week with $50k Lawsuit Against First Amendment

INSIDE INGLEWOOD-At the Inglewood city council meeting of Tuesday, March 17, Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts approved an agreement for “Majesty Law Group to provide legal services to the City in the amount of $50,000” from the city’s General Fund. The approval came at a time when open government and document transparency is being celebrated throughout the rest of the United States. Unfortunately, Inglewood, led by Butts, has sought to hide in the darkness. 

The legal services, which will be provided by the law firm’s Ms. JoAnna Esty, is for the sake of suing an Inglewood resident who has exercised his First Amendment Rights by using non-copyrighted city council meeting video excerpts that had been posted on YouTube.com.

Even if the footage was copyrighted, Fair Use would protect those who use such footage—especially when that footage is non-proprietary and taxpayer-funded.

According to California state law, the videos are also available from the city clerk to anyone who requests a copy or to view the original video files. California Government Code Section 54953.5 states, “Any audio or video recording of an open and public meeting made for whatever purpose by or at the direction of the local agency shall be subject to inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1)… Any inspection of an audio or video recording shall be provided without charge on equipment made available by the local agency."

The resident, who has asked to not be named owing to being harassed by the mayor, council members and city commissioners, used the footage to protest the mayor’s patently false assertions regarding Forum traffic and the red light cameras that he secretly decommissioned in January, 2014. 

The video prompted a cease-and-desist letter from Esty. In it, the city claimed the videos were copyrighted. No proof was offered, and the copyright claims appear to be unsubstantiated as there are no such statements in the videos that were made available on DVD and on YouTube.

Shortly before the mayor’s re-election campaign in November, 2014, the city council videos for 2012, 2013, and the first eleven months of 2014 were all made private. City employees have offered a number of excuses as to why the videos are no longer viewable, and many residents have stated that Butts took them down owing to his many inconsistent and conflicting statements over the years. The videos were previously available here. 

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Butts has a history of ignoring constitutional rights as well as using taxpayer funds to usurp them.

In 1996, the case CALIFORNIA ATTORNEYS FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. James BUTTS, et al., Defendants was presented after then Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts had been discovered allowing his officers to ignore Miranda Rights. 

According to an ACLU press release dated November 8, 1999, “In a ringing affirmation of the decades-old ‘right to remain silent’ during police interrogations, a federal appeals court today ruled that the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Police Departments had unconstitutionally authorized police officers to interrogate suspects even after they invoked their rights.”

The following year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the police officers were accountable for Miranda violations and claimed that Butts’ behavior was an attempt to violate the 5th Amendment. 

A previous CityWatch story covered the case in September, 2014, when Butts reduced residents’ city council commentary time from three minutes to one minute.  

Reached via email, neither Butts nor Inglewood’s city attorney, Kenneth R. Campos, responded.


(Randall Fleming is a veteran journalist and magazine publisher. He has worked at and for the New York Post, the Brooklyn Spectator and the Los Feliz Ledger. He is currently editor-in-chief at the Morningside Park Chronicle, a weekly newspaper based in Inglewood, CA and on-line at www.MorningsideParkChronicle.com.  Mr. Fleming’s views are his own and do not reflect the views of CityWatch.) 







Vol 13 Issue 24

Pub: Mar 20, 2015