A Los Angeles judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order that effectively prohibits some animal rights activists from demonstrating at the Los Angeles Animal Services Department or at the Santa Monica home of its general manager.
City officials said the order was necessary because activists Pamelyn Ferdin and Jerry Vlasak, along with other members of the Animal Defense League, have harassed general manager Jerry Greenwalt. The activists are planning a protest tonight in his neighborhood.
In a declaration filed with the petition, Greenwalt testified that he and his wife have been bothered by threatening phone calls, including one anonymous call in which someone said: "We're going to make you sorry for what you do."
The temporary order, signed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin, bars Ferdin, Vlasak and other Animal Defense League members from going within 100 yards of Greenwalt, his wife or Greenwalt's home or office. The order was filed by the city attorney under a provision of state employment law aimed at preventing workplace violence. A hearing is set for Dec. 9.
Animal activists expressed outrage over the action. They denied making violent threats against Greenwalt, saying they merely protested what they say is the needless killing of tens of thousands of dogs and cats by the Animal Services Department.
"How do they expect us to protest the wrongdoing of what is going on in government if we can't even be there?" said Ferdin. Under the order, she said, she will no longer be able to attend meetings of the Animal Services Commission if Greenwalt is there.
Tim Midgley, an attorney for the Animal Defense League, said he was "appalled" at the ruling and called it "a wholesale revocation of 1st Amendment rights."
"This is a 1st Amendment case," he said, noting that the employment law "is totally inapplicable to 1st Amendment cases."
Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, called the ruling "a prior restraint on free speech." He is not involved in the case.
Greenwalt maintained that something had to be done to protect himself and his family. The last time activists held a protest at his home, he said, his wife had a heart attack the next day.
He said they were afraid for their safety and "felt like prisoners in our own home" when animal rights activists gathered outside last month.
"It's one thing to take this stuff at work," he said. "But I should not have to put up with it in my neighborhood, in my house and my frontyard."
For five months, animal rights activists have been targeting Greenwalt as part of a campaign to remove him from the Animal Services Department, where they say he is alienating volunteers and doing little to stop the euthanizing of animals.
In June, the Animal Defense League published the home addresses of Greenwalt and Mayor James K. Hahn on its Web site. The league also published a photograph of a vandalized car with the words "Puppy Killer" painted across it and a caption below that said: "Visualize Greenwalt's car."
On Oct. 3, Greenwalt's house was vandalized, and the word "murderer" was spray-painted on his city car.
Ferdin and Vlasak said they had nothing to do with the vandalism, and that they removed the photograph of the car from the Web site. In recent weeks, they also removed Greenwalt's and Hahn's home addresses.
Still, the two, who are married and co-founded the Los Angeles chapter of the group in 1997, said they intended to go to tonight's protest.
"The animals have no one to speak up" for them, Ferdin said.