Judge mulls unsealing videos from Prop 8 trial

Judge James Ware

After Monday’s hearing, Vaughn Walker’s successor says he’ll issue written ruling at later date

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The legal sparring over California’s same-sex marriage ban returned to a federal courtroom Monday with a judge hearing arguments on whether he should unseal video recordings of last year’s landmark trial on the constitutionality of the voter-approved measure.

Lawyers representing two same-sex couples, the city of San Francisco and a coalition of media groups that includes The Associated Press asked Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware to make the recordings public.

They maintained that allowing people to see the proceedings for themselves was necessary to demonstrate why Ware’s predecessor, former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, ultimately struck down the ban, known as Proposition 8, and to counter any perceptions that Walker was biased against same-sex marriage opponents from the start.

“Releasing the video would allow everyone to review and make their own judgment about what happened,” Theodore Boutrous, the couples’ attorney, told the judge.

Ware did not rule at the end of Monday’s hearing but said he would issue a written ruling at a later date.

Attorneys for the ban’s backers want to keep the videos under wraps. They argued that disseminating oral and visual recordings of the 13-day trial would be a direct violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s position on the issue.

As the trial got under way in January 2010, the high court, on a 5-4 vote, blocked cameras from covering the high-profile case so they could be streamed live to other federal courthouses and possibly posted on YouTube.

Walker, asked the court staff to keep shooting the proceedings, but sealed the videos with the understanding that they were being produced for his own review in reaching a verdict.

“We were entitled to rely on those unqualified assurances, and we did,” David Thompson, a lawyer for the religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8, said about the move by Walker.

In taking the matter under advisement, Ware said he was torn between the desire to preserve public access to court proceedings and upholding the integrity of the courts.

“The judicial process is affected when a judge takes the position of, “I will seal this and use it only for a limited purpose,’ and then that is changed by a different judge and unsealed and used for a different purpose,” the judge said.

Walker’s ruling from last August overturning Proposition 8 as an unconstitutional violation of the civil rights of gay Californians is currently on appeal. The recordings are part of the case record before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Also before the federal appeals court is the proponents’ challenge to Ware’s refusal in June to vacate Walker’s decision. The ban’s sponsors have argued that Walker should have revealed he was in a long-term gay relationship before he presided over the closely watched trial.

Boutrous said at Monday’s hearing that the move to challenge Walker’s impartiality made it more important for the public to see the videos first-hand.

“They tried to undermine the integrity of the court by attacking the proceeding,” he said.

Ware did not seem convinced. He noted that during his 24 years on the bench, “I’ve had lots of parties attack me” and that it was up to the appeals court, not the public, to decide if Walker had acted appropriately.

Gay rights supporters already have used the written transcripts to recreate the full 13-day trial for online audiences. Next month, Morgan Freeman, Marisa Tomei and other big-name actors are scheduled to perform a dramatic play about the trial that screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for the film “Milk,” created from the written testimony.

To those who have not been following the Proposition 8 narrative closely, it therefore may not be immediately obvious why attorneys were spending their time and clients’ money fighting over the recordings as if they were the Nixon White House tapes.

Gay rights supporters claim the footage is their smoking gun, proof that arguments against same-sex marriage cannot hold up under rules of evidence sustained scrutiny and legal standards.

They want to use live segments, especially the cross-examinations to which the expert witnesses called by Proposition 8′s supporters were subjected, to nudge the American public further in its embrace of same-sex marriage, although it’s unclear what the vehicle for the snippets would be.

“There really is only one question–what do they have to hide?” said American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin, whose group is funding the Proposition 8 case.

The Proposition 8 defense team, meanwhile, has argued that putting the trial recordings into the public realm could subject their witnesses to unwanted scrutiny in a way that written transcripts have not.

In persuading the Supreme Court to block the broadcasts, lawyers had argued that same-sex marriage opponents feared being harassed by gay rights supporters if their images were distributed widely.

—  John Wright

Neighborhood activist takes on incumbent

Scott Griggs

Scott Griggs says District 3 Councilman Dave Neumann doesn’t have the neighborhood’s interests as a top priority

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

In campaigns, gas drilling is usually a state vs. federal government concern. In Dallas, it could be a deciding factor in a single council district race since challenger Scott Griggs has raised the issue in his race for city council against District 3 incumbent Dave Neumann.

The massive Dallas City Council District 3 covers more than 50 square miles — an area larger than the city of San Francisco.

Potential drilling sites include Red Bird Airport and Mountain Creek, an area that is closer to Highway 360 in Arlington than it is to Downtown Dallas or even to Bishop Arts in Oak Cliff.

A controversial technique called “fracking” — slang for “hydraulic fracturing” — would be used to extract gas from underlying shale. Opponents have warned fracking could be responsible for recent earthquakes in North Texas and that chemicals used in the process may pollute the ground water.

Runoff from this area feeds Mountain Creek Lake, a source of drinking water for the southern sector.

At the Sept. 22, 2010 council meeting, Neumann called the Barnett Shale drilling proposals “a sweetheart deal” and “a great deal for the taxpayers of Dallas.”

Many in his district, including Griggs, disagree.

“He’s ignoring the effects on property values, quality of life, our air, our water, our health,” Griggs said. “I’ve been asking for a moratorium.”

Griggs said he would like more study to see what the effects would actually be.

Neumann has delayed a vote on the issue until October, allegedly to prevent drilling from becoming an issue in the May election.

Griggs describes District 3 as the donut that surrounds Delia Jasso’s compact District 1 donut hole.

Jasso represents much of north Oak Cliff. Neumann represents an area that includes the heavily LGBT-populated neighborhoods of Stevens Park in North Oak Cliff and the Keist Park neighborhoods further south.

Griggs has been active with the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group and the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce and served as Ed Oakley’s appointee to the Board of Adjustment.

He believes in development but criticizes the way Dallas often goes for big projects only. While new overpasses across the Trinity River would help Oak Cliff, Griggs said he worries about the cost of maintaining the faux suspension bridge being built.

In contrast to the way Dallas usually builds, Griggs said he prefers small projects and points to Jack’s Backyard as an example of how one person can help transform a neighborhood.

Kathy Jack, owner of Jack’s, said, “I couldn’t have gotten my business open without him.”

The city was preventing Jack from opening the restaurant without a paved parking lot.

Griggs explained that the area has flooding problems and no storm sewers. Paving the lot would have made flooding worse.

Jack finished the lot with gravel over a green product called Gravelpave that allows water to absorb into the ground.

“I went to the city of Dallas and they gave me 10 reasons why we couldn’t open,” Jack said. “He went to the city of Dallas with me and they approved my parking lot.”

“We always think that the biggest and sexiest development is best,” Griggs said. “But if you look at what happened with Bishop Arts, the city went in and invested $2.6 million.”

The city added parking, trees, wider sidewalks, crosswalks and enhanced pavement, he said, which made pedestrians feel welcome.

“Property values immediately adjacent to the improvements — 10 years ago the property was worth $1.7 million,” he said. “Now it’s worth $6.2 million. We’ve had 13 percent increase steady through two recessions.”

The city makes more money in Bishop Arts now on a Saturday night from taxes on alcohol sales than they did before with a year of property taxes, Griggs said.

He said that the success of the area is not being copied anywhere else in the city.

“Those are the types of revenue solutions we need to look at in these tough times,” he said. “Something Dallas has never looked at — small investments. We don’t do little. We’re all big and sexy.

“We think it’s an accident,” Griggs said of the success in Bishop Arts. “We think it’s quaint and it’s cute. It’s just an old streetcar neighborhood and we have those throughout the area.”

But, he said, the area’s success can be replicated.

Griggs mentioned that adding bike racks has brought additional traffic to Bishop Arts. He said he supports the plan to add bike lanes to streets and is a supporter of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, a neighborhood group that encourages bike riding.

He also supports the extension of the trolley line across the Houston Street Viaduct and across Davis Street. Grants for the extension were obtained despite Neumann’s refusal to sign onto the project, Griggs said.

He charges Neumann with blocking other development in the area by moving money out of designated funds into the general fund, including rebuilding the pergola at Kiest Park and cleaning up the Hensley Field Naval Air Station, also within the district.

Griggs is married but counts the LGBT community as part of the base of his support.

Joseph Hernandez ran against Neumann in 2007. He served on the Landmark Commission and has known Griggs through their work at the city for eight years.

“The gay community is very tight knit and engaged and we know who our supporters are,” Hernandez said. “I believe he’s an advocate for us and would be very inclusive.”

Susan Melnick, who lives in District 3, said, “He and his wife are very progressive and he thinks outside the box.”
She called him thoughtful.

“Scott’s not going to just jump on the bandwagon,” she said. “He’s going to do his homework. ”

Melnick said she believes Griggs would always be very inclusive of the LGBT community.

“He’s always had gay and straight friends,” she said. “He’s very low-key. No ego there. I just adore him.”

Former Dallas Independent School Board member Jose Plata lives in the District and said he hasn’t been pleased with the representation of the incumbent and so is backing Griggs.

“Scott has a strong mind about strong neighborhoods,” Plata said. “Scott understands issues and would be a good spokesperson for the gay community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Pro-gay marriage attorneys may move to recover Prop. 8 court costs

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The lawyers who successfully sued to overturn California’s gay marriage ban are indicating they plan to recover attorney’s fees if the verdict is upheld on appeal.

In papers filed Tuesday, Aug. 17, attorneys for two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco asked the court to extend a deadline for seeking reimbursement from the losing side. In this case, that would be the groups that put the ban on the 2008 ballot.

Sponsors of Proposition 8 defended the ban in court after California’s governor and attorney general refused to.

Lawyers familiar with scope of the case suggest the dollar amount would be in the millions.

Plaintiffs lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. says it makes sense to wait until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides on the Aug. 4 ruling that overturned the ban.

—  John Wright