Judge Lifts Order Barring Story on Duffy Security
A Superior Court judge Wednesday lifted the extraordinary order he had issued last week preventing The Times from publishing information about security measures at the home of San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy.
Judge Jeffrey T. Miller said at a brief hearing that Duffy failed to meet the “very heavy burden” of showing that speculative threats to the safety of the sheriff outweighed a “prior restraint” on freedom of the press.
Lawyers for The Times and other legal experts hailed the ruling as the proper one and said that Miller should have never issued the order in the first place. Duffy, however, said he was “appalled” and contended that the ruling “without question” will further threaten the personal safety of himself and his wife, Linda.
At a press conference after the ruling, Duffy and his wife, both visibly enraged, lashed out at the judge, The Times and the media in general.
“Unlike Benjamin Franklin rolling out flyers on a hand-operated printing press, criticizing the king of England, these huge corporations control the country and are completely unregulated by anyone except their own stockholders,” Duffy said.
“An unbridled, unfettered, unaccountable news media that pursues the Nielsen ratings and circulation figures for profit motives is a serious threat to all Americans.”
Judge Miller, he said, lacked courage and “took the safe way out.”
The Times was “utterly stupid” to inquire about county-owned security items at his house because there simply aren’t that many there, Duffy said. He illustrated his point by dumping a shotgun, a handgun, a bulletproof vest, two-way radio and batteries on a table and said that was it.
Duffy told the assembled reporters that they were lucky the guns were unloaded because he didn’t want to be “tempted here” to use them.
Duffy also had a warning for would-be housebreakers. “I want any son of a bitch to think twice,” Duffy said. Then, pointing at his wife, seated beside him, he said, “This lady sleeps with a gun under her pillow. And she knows how to use it.”
Duffy said the way drug dealers in Colombia and Peru “solve the problem” is to “kill the judges and the police chief and the prosecutor,” and suggested that he and Linda may be at risk from “Colombians and Peruvians, illegal aliens, who come here dealing in drugs, who bring that culture with them of killing the executive officers in the criminal justice system and the judges.”
At the end of the hourlong news conference, he lectured the nearly 20 reporters and television camera operators in attendance: “You should report on my official conduct as the sheriff. But what happens inside my house is none of your God-damned business. And that’s the bottom line.”
Duffy said he was unsure whether he will appeal the decision.
The dispute began last Thursday when Times reporter Richard A. Serrano asked the Sheriff’s Department for information about the existence of a “safe room” in Duffy’s house that might contain weapons and other county equipment, such as radios.
In the event of an emergency--either personal or in cases of widespread civil disorder--the sheriff purportedly could go into the room and still be in contact with deputies, Serrano said in a sworn statement filed in connection with the lawsuit.
When Serrano made his initial inquiries, he had not yet written an article for publication, said a lawyer for the paper, Los Angeles attorney Rex S. Heinke. Serrano was “just looking into various questions,” Heinke said.
But, since the paper refused to agree to avoid publishing information about any security measures, Duffy’s lawyer, Janet B. Houts, said she had no choice but to go to court. Miller issued an order late last Thursday directing The Times to refrain from publishing information regarding the “nature, layout or configuration of security measures” in the Duffy home.
After a hearing Friday, Miller substituted the word “location” for “nature” but let the rest of the order stand pending Wednesday’s hearing.
Heinke filed legal papers this week in which he argued that the order was an infringement of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court consistently has held that, only in the most “extraordinary circumstances” may newspapers be prevented from publishing stories, Heinke said.
Houts maintained that Duffy’s “right to privacy” regarding any security measures at his home outweighed any press freedom issues. Further, the many cases holding that restraints on the press are illegal didn’t count as precedent, she said, because no court had decided a case quite like this one.
Houts reiterated those arguments Wednesday in court. But Miller, noting he agreed with the presentation of the law outlined by attorneys for The Times, said that Houts’ arguments were insufficient to warrant keeping the restraint in place any longer.
“A person’s privacy has never justified a prior restraint on the press,” he said. “This should especially be the case where the individual is an elected public official.”
The Times is “delighted” with the ruling, Heinke said, adding, “It’s clear, as the judge ruled, that prior restraints are presumptively unconstitutional and can only be obtained in extraordinary circumstances, for example troop movements during a war, and this is nothing like that situation.”
Legal experts also praised Miller’s turnabout. “Quite frankly, the amazing thing was that it was ordered in the first place, and that it lasted this long,” San Diego attorney John Allcock said. “I think it was pretty obviously a clear First Amendment violation, and it never should have been entered in the first place.”
Miller did not say at the hearing what prompted him to issue the initial order. Asked about it in the hallway outside his courtroom about 10 minutes after the hearing ended, he said, “I can’t comment on the case.”
Duffy, in a written statement released at the press conference, said he thought originally that Miller had “the courage to make new law.” Instead, Duffy said, Miller “took the safe way out of a very intimidating lawsuit.”
At his press conference, Duffy said he was left wondering what his next step should be.
“What is a person to do? What is any citizen to do? You seek relief from the courts. In this case we got no relief from the courts. We’re out there, hanging out there, so of course I’m more at threat and so is my wife more at threat.”
The true “loser in court,” however, was not just him and not just his wife, but anyone whose “safety and privacy are threatened” by “powerful multimillion-dollar profit-making” news organizations, Duffy said in his written statement.
“I’m supposed to trust you people,” Duffy told reporters, “so that you will, hopefully, in your own opinion, if you don’t think it’s a hot news story, you won’t print it. Until something happens to me or my wife--then, of course, you’ll have a big story. And that I guess is what you really want.”
Linda Duffy, a county probation officer, closed the conference on a similar note. “Thanks for being there, after the fact, when the paramedics are there and the ambulances are there,” she told reporters.
“Don’t come and say, ‘Gee, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean this to happen.’ Because it’s not going to wash.”