Judge Urges Attorneys to Reach Accord on Grove Protests

Midsection Of Judge Holding Gavel At Table In Courthouse

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Although a judge indicated in a tentative ruling that she was poised to grant a preliminary injunction sought by free-speech activists who filed a lawsuit against two companies owned by mayoral candidate Rick Caruso -- alleging viewpoint discrimination concerning protest restrictions at the Grove -- she recommended at the end of a hearing Thursday that the attorneys try and reach their own agreement.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa A. Beaudet's proposed order would direct those affiliated with Caruso, through Nov. 4, to stop "prohibiting or interfering with plaintiffs' and the general public's expressive activity at the Grove in opposition to Rick Caruso's mayoral campaign on differential terms or treatment than defendants apply to expressive activity in support of Rick Caruso's mayoral campaign."

The judge told the attorneys she is concerned that people who do not have the resources of someone like Caruso may not have their voices heard just because of their economic status and that it should not matter if one side paid for use of the space.

"What is allowed for one side has to be allowed for the other side," Beaudet said.

The tentative directive, if finalized, would be "subject to defendants' enforcement of reasonable regulations of the time, place and manner of such expressive activity," according to the judge.

However, at the end of Thursday's arguments the judge recommended that the attorneys come to an agreement, or submit a proposed order when the hearing resumes Monday morning.

Election Day in the nonpartisan race between Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass is Nov. 8.

Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer running for mayor of Los Angeles, has his campaign headquartered at the shopping center, which has also been the site of numerous public events promoting his candidacy, according to the suit brought Aug. 16 against Caruso Management Co. Ltd. and GFM LLC, alleging violations of the state Constitution.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs -- former mayoral candidate Gina Viola as well as Sim Bilal of the organization Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles -- were denied permission by Grove management to hold small-scale marches through the Fairfax district center's public access ways in August, according to the suit.

While Grove employees continue to distribute signs promoting Caruso's campaign to mall visitors and allow them to march around the mall holding up the signs, any demonstrations critical of the businessman's campaign platform are banned, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs' assertions are disputed in declarations by two company representatives, who say the plaintiffs' planned events did not comply with the Grove policies when their applications were submitted July 31.

"Based on my knowledge and experience with crowd control principles and knowledge of the Grove, the activities proposed in the two applications would give rise to risks that are simply untenable for a commercial operation like the Grove without the deployment of substantial additional security and crowd control resources," says Banyon Hutter, Caruso Management Company Ltd.'s senior vice president for security, health and technology.

Viola's planned event called for as many as 15 people and Bilal's up to 50, according to Hutter.

In the second declaration, Sunil Watumull, Caruso Management Co.'s executive vice president for operations, said there is no viewpoint discrimination when applications for expressive events at the Grove are considered.

"I am not familiar with an instance in which supporters of Mr. Caruso's campaign wishing to use the Grove for non-commercial expressive activity have been treated differently from any other group or person wishing to use the Grove for non-commercial expressive activity," Watumull says.

Caruso Management Co. has never sanctioned the use of the Grove's common areas for non-commercial expressive activity at the request of the mayoral campaign or its supporters, according to Watumull.

Viola is an organizer with the LAPC Fails Coalition, a group critical of the Los Angeles Police Commission's response to police violence in Los Angeles. Caruso is a former commission president.

Viola finished fourth in the June 7 primary with 6.9% of the vote.

Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles is a group that focuses on climate change and the environment.

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