LA ELECTION 2022 - The Los Angeles Superior Court has granted an injunction ordering companies owned by Rick Caruso to cease suppressing criticism of their owner’s failing political run at the Grove, a 750,000 square foot shopping mall.
Rick Caruso is a billionaire real estate developer running for Mayor of Los Angeles. He is also the owner of the Grove, which has hosted public expression promoting his campaign.
The injunction was ordered in a case filed by local activists who had asked the mall for permission to express criticism of the Caruso campaign on terms similar to past expression at the mall promoting the same campaign. The injunction prohibits the Caruso companies from suppressing two narrow categories of political expression by Caruso's critics: quiet displays of signs no larger than Caruso for Mayor signage distributed by the Grove for parading around the mall, and one demonstration by up to 30 people between now and the election.
“Caurso said he wanted The Grove to be ‘Main Street for a City that doesn’t have one,” said Matthew Strugar, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Well, Main Streets have protests, and they have to allow all viewpoints.”
Caruso’s companies are represented in the case by out-of-town counsel brought into Los Angeles by the law firm Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP. They argued that the court should excuse the Grove’s suppression of speech critical of Caruso because, in their view, who can criticize Caruso’s campaign in public space turns on how much rent the speaker pays. The court rejected this argument, recognizing it would require wealth-based discrimination.
“Just because you’re rich enough to control important public spaces doesn’t mean you can use those spaces to suppress the public’s criticism of your political agenda,” said Shakeer Rahman, an attorney with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition also representing the plaintiffs. “The court saw right through Caruso’s claim that everyone’s free speech rights depend on whether we pay Caruso enough rent.”
The plaintiffs in the case are Gina Viola, Sim Bilal, and Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles. Viola is an organizer with the LAPC Fails Coalition, which educates the public about the failures of the Los Angeles Police Commission to address police violence in Los Angeles. Bilal is an organizer with Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles.
Not only does The Grove discriminate against speakers critical of Rick Caruso, just about all The Grove’s restrictions on speech violate the legal requirements for free speech in public spaces. Anyone wishing to exercise their free speech rights in The Grove must submit a paper application to an office that has been behind a locked door for years; political expression must be limited to 7 people and a 100 square foot corner of the mall (0.00035% of the Grove’s total area), away from nearly all foot traffic; and any fliers or petitions must be individually approved by Caruso staff.
The Caruso companies have announced that they plan to appeal the injunction, and they are hiring additional lawyers to supplement the three who have appeared on their behalf so far.
(Shakeer Rahman and Matthew Strugar are civil rights attorneys in Los Angeles.)