LOS ALAMITOS - The ACLU of Southern California and the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a free-speech case late yesterday on behalf of a public-access TV host whose show was censored by the City of Los Alamitos.

The censorship happened after the City Council fired the independent board of directors who manage the Los Alamitos Television Corporation and took control of the nonprofit station. LATV Channel 3 is available to Time Warner customers in Los Alamitos and Rossmoor.

On several occasions, city officials capriciously cancelled programs, including interviews with City Council candidates two days before the Nov. 7 election. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeks an injunction preventing the city from censoring programs.

'There is no state-run media in the U.S.,' said ACLU/SC managing attorney Peter Eliasberg. 'You can't have the same officials who are subjects of a program deciding whether that program can air on public-access stations. We are asking the court to restore independent TV in Los Alamitos.'

The City Council dismissed the LATV board last August after a dispute over delinquent income taxes. (A council member called the firing a 'time out' to assess the financial situation, though the city and LATV board had cooperated to file missing returns in July.) The city completed its investigation, but the board has not been reinstated.

'The city council is playing politics with the public airways,' said plaintiff Alan Katz, who was on the LATV board and produces 'OC's West End,' an arts and politics program that has aired since February 2005. 'Given the city's past history with censoring programming it disagrees with, there is no reason to think it won't do it again.'

Katz taped a program in September with former LATV board members. The show aired twice before the city manager - who admitted she had not seen the episode - ordered it off the air, citing unspecified 'complaints' about its content. The episode was later returned to the air, then pulled again.

The producer of another show taped interviews with City Council candidates before the November election. The city's mayor, who is also a Council member, declined to participate. The show aired once without problem, but was swapped for local football games and other programs just before the Nov. 7 election.

Stations like LATV were created to give local communities a vital public voice as television moved into the cable era. LATV was incorporated in 1982.