Burbank officials say 1st Amendment protections trump any concerns regarding a city employee, ordered last week to stay at least 10 yards from an aide to Assemblyman Mike Gatto after a judge sided with her claims of harassment.
Gatto aide Christine Aghakhani testified that Peter Musurlian, a Burbank city employee who independently reports and shoots video stories, had threatened her during a July 24 town hall event at the Glendale Central Public Library.
Musurlian appeared at the event with his video camera, but was told by Gatto aides and Glendale police to remove the equipment because he was not authorized to videotape the event. He returned later without his camera.
Aghakhani testified that Musurlian told her, "You are a disgrace to the Armenian race. You better watch your back."
Musurlian, who has produced unflattering videos of Gatto, denied he threatened Aghakhani. He said the charge that he had intimidated members of Gatto's staff "the disgusting deception of political amateurs trying to smear me."
But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Stewart sided with Aghakhani, although he denied restraining order requests from two other Gatto aides.
The judge found that Musurlian's work was "not reportage" and that he appeared to have a "fixation" on Gatto and political events that involve him.
Musurlian said that Gatto's staff tried to get him fired from his post as a videographer for Burbank Public Access Channel 6 by sending damaging accusations to city officials.
Burbank City Manager Mike Flad acknowledged in an interview that his office received an e-mail from a Gatto aide outlining an eight-month history of clashes between Musurlian and the Gatto camp.
But Flad said Gatto's office did not ask the city to take action.
Flad also said that Musurlian had not used city time or equipment in his independent journalistic pursuits, but acknowledged the public might confuse Musurlian's work for the city with his private video work on Gatto and other political subjects.
But, Flad said, "I think his 1st Amendment rights outweigh the concerns over the potential for confusion."
He added that he had no concern that Musurlian's coverage of Gatto would affect the city's relationship with the assemblyman.