Activists sue for right to protest at Grove

Two activists are suing property developer Rick Caruso’s company for the right to demonstrate against the mayoral candidate at its flagship mall.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday on behalf of the left-leaning former mayoral candidate Gina Viola, the group Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles and Sim Bilal, an organizer of this group. Bilal and Viola had been denied permission to hold anti-Caruso events at The Grove, the promoter’s outdoor retail complex in the Fairfax District.

Their attorneys argue that because events and speeches in support of Caruso’s candidacy are permitted at the Grove, the public should be permitted to engage in similar activity opposing his candidacy.

The lawsuit is almost certainly intended as a political provocation in a contentious mayoral race. But it also raises legal questions over public and private space amid a campaign in which Caruso’s developments have been seen as surrogates for his vision for the city.

“Because the grove opened to speech favorable to Caruso’s campaign, it must provide the same opportunity for campaign critics,” said attorney Matthew Strugar, who filed the lawsuit with fellow attorney for the civil rights Shakeer Rahman.

Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Caruso’s campaign, described the lawsuit as “beyond frivolous and orchestrated by a failed political campaign dedicated to policies that would lead to more homelessness and defunding the police. “.

A spokesperson for Caruso’s eponymous company did not immediately return a request for comment.

Caruso’s success as a businessman developing idealized retail spaces like the Grove was central to his campaign message, which also centered on homelessness and public safety. The manicured streets of the Grove provided a particularly resonant backdrop for Caruso’s “let’s clean up LA” message.

At the end of July, Bilal and Viola asked to organize small-scale anti-Caruso marches at the Grove this month. According to the lawsuit, Viola wanted to march with 10 to 15 people to raise questions about Caruso’s history as chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, and Bilal wanted to protest the lack of a climate platform at City Hall. Caruso, accompanied by 30 to 50 people. Those requests were denied on August 3, according to the lawsuit.

Generally speaking, the 1st Amendment protects speech only from government intrusion, which means private malls can severely limit speech in most of the country. But California has more extensive rules.

In 1979, a landmark state Supreme Court decision found that the California Constitution went beyond the 1st Amendment to protect free speech in private shopping malls. A United States Supreme Court decision the following year upheld the right of the state to enact personal freedoms broader than those conferred by the U.S. Constitution.

Robins vs. PruneYard Shopping Center, the case in question, centered on a group of high school students who attempted to solicit petition signatures at a suburban northern California shopping mall on a fall Saturday in 1975.

The teenagers complied after mall security told them to leave – and eventually filed a complaint.

The 1979 State Supreme Court decision was based in part on a principle that has been central to Caruso’s success as a developer: shopping malls are a new type of public square, where people spend a lot of time.

The state High Court ruled that shopping malls were public forums that should be treated as such. But speech cannot interfere with regular business operations, and malls can still adopt “reasonable regulations” on the time, place and manner of speech activities under the Pruneyard ruling.

Another one 2007 California judicial precedent found that these regulations must be content- and point-of-view neutral, meaning that a mall cannot have different rules for different groups or different types of speech.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court argues that because the Grove allows speech in support of the Caruso mayoral campaign, banning anti-Caruso protests amounts to “point of view discriminatory enforcement” of their bylaws. .

The Grove has hosted several Caruso campaign events, including rallies with former mayoral candidates, councilors Joe Buscaino and Ramit Varma and a large party on primary election night. Caruso signs for the mayor are also available at the mall’s concierge desk. Strugar said twice before filing the lawsuit, members of his team took signs from the concierge desk and paraded them around the mall without anyone stopping them.

In a letter sent to Strugar before the lawsuit was filed, the Caruso company’s general counsel wrote that Viola and Bilal’s candidacies “have been rightly dismissed as inconsistent with reasonable rules of time, place and manner. in Grove’s policy regarding noncommercial use of its common areas, according to a copy of the letter provided by Strugar.

The letter, which was sent on Friday, said the company “would welcome the opportunity to discuss options” for Viola and Sim “to engage in legal expression activity” in accordance with Grove policy and invited them to submit another application.

Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the plaintiffs had a strong case, but he could see potential reasoning on both sides of the case.

The time, place and manner rules set forth in Grove’s policy limit expressive activity to a limited number of people in a designated area, according to the lawsuit. Even if those policies are deemed reasonable, there remains the question of whether campaign activity has been maintained at the same level, Caplan said.

“If the Grove company says to Mr. Caruso, ‘Sure, you can use it for your campaign,’ and then says to the other people, ‘No, you can’t use it for your campaign,’ that’s what which we call the point of view discrimination,” Caplan said.

But the fact that the Caruso campaign paid for the use of mall space for campaign events could play into the case. The idea that holding a protest and renting space for a campaign event isn’t an “apples to apples” comparison would be “a good argument to make for the Grove,” Caplan said. .

Still, he said, a judge might find this argument one-sided or too technical, such as suggesting that because someone is wealthy they “have the right to have a different speech at the mall than everyone else.” .


Los Angeles Times

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