LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of attorney Tony Capozzola, who represents Marie Elise West, in People v. West. Ms. West is charged with murder and hate crimes after allegedly using her car to run down and kill a Latino man in Van Nuys earlier this year. The gag order prevents Capozzola from discussing the case or related issues with the media.
"The public has an interest in a full discussion of the difficult issues raised by this case," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. "Look at the facts: Ms. West has been involved in the county mental health system. Did the system work? Was there a breakdown in monitoring and treating her? Do mentally ill people receive adequate and timely treatment in this county, and, if not, how does that affect their own and the public's safety? These are compelling current issues - questions which this case urgently raises for the consideration of the public."
"A gag order stifles and undermines the free and full discussion which is so vital to the public good," said Eliasberg. "Imagine if the attorneys or plaintiffs in Rampart-related cases, for example, were laboring under a gag order - our understanding of the need for reform would be greatly diminished."
Eliasberg pointed out that concerns about pre-trial publicity prejudicing the jury pool must be considered in proper perspective.
"Courts have ruled that in a county as large as Los Angeles," said Eliasberg, "with a correspondingly large jury pool from which to select, the likelihood of prejudicing the entire jury pool through pre-trial publicity is generally too small to justify a gag order."
"The City of Los Angeles has not justified this gag order," said Eliasberg, "and a restriction of speech this severe requires the government to make the justification."
The gag order, already in effect, will be challenged in today's hearing before the Superior Court of the State of California.