State Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren--threatened with jail time if he refused to comply--obeyed a court order and told sheriffs and district attorneys throughout California on Monday to halt prosecutions under a law banning the sale of sex-oriented publications from news rack vending machines.
Lungren passed the word just in time to meet a contempt-of-court deadline set last week by U.S. District Judge Manuel Real. Lungren, who said he was "not in agreement" with Real's order, relented after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to overturn the ruling by the Los Angeles federal judge.
Last Thursday, Real found Lungren in contempt for enforcing the law--enacted last year with the purported intent of making it more difficult for so-called "adult publications" to fall into the hands of minors.
The judge, who earlier had issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law, ordered Lungren to pass the word along to the state's law enforcement officials. Real warned that if Lungren failed to comply by 4 p.m. Monday, the state's highest-ranking law enforcement officer would be fined $1,000 a day and "be imprisoned until he complies."
Lungren said Monday that although he believes the vending law should be enforced, he decided to meet the deadline "to avoid a fine which would be borne by California's taxpayers." He did not mention the threat of of jail time.
The vending statute was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pete Wilson last April. Publishers, distributors, vendors and a reader of sexually oriented publications promptly filed suit, contending that the law violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech.
Responding to the suit, Real issued his injunction. Ignoring the injunction, Kern County sheriff's deputies seized 17 vending machines containing adult publications. The plaintiffs complained to Lungren, and when he turned a deaf ear, they complained to Real. The judge responded with his contempt order.
The order is to remain in effect until the constitutionality issue is resolved.