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Williams v. Redflex Traffic Systems

March 15, 2007

JUDY WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
REDFLEX TRAFFIC SYSTEMS, INC., CITY OF KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE, BILL HASLAM AS MAYOR OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE, KNOXVILLE CITY COUNCIL, REDFLEX TRAFFIC SYSTEMS, INC., D/B/A WWW.PHOTONOTICE.COM, MICHAEL L. SULLIVAN, AND UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: H. Bruce Guyton United States Magistrate Judge

(Phillips/Guyton)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the Rules of this Court, and by the Orders [Docs. 30, 41, 47] of the Honorable Thomas W. Phillips, United States District Judge, for disposition of the following motions: Plaintiff's Motion to Restrict Party Extra-judicial Comments [Doc. 24], Plaintiff's Motion to Require Corporation Defendants to Comply with the Local Rules [Doc. 39], and Defendant Redflex's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Supplement to Memorandum in Support of Motion to Restrict Party Extra-judicial Comments [Doc. 42].

These motions were heard by this Court on March 9, 2007. Attorneys David Hamilton and William Price, III, were present, representing the plaintiff. Attorneys Michael Kelley and Edward Meade were present, representing Defendant Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., ("Redflex") and Joseph Bernard. Attorney Ronald Mills was present representing Defendants the City of Knoxville, Bill Haslam, Michael Sullivan, and Gordon Catlett, Sr. Charles Swanson was present representing Defendant Knoxville City Council.

This case regards the utilization of cameras and photography to enforce traffic violations for running red lights. Plaintiff makes numerous claims,*fn1 but the primary federal question is premised on an alleged Section 1983 violation. [See Doc. 26].

I. Plaintiff's Motion to Restrict Party Extra-judicial Comments

In Plaintiff's Motion to Restrict Party Extra-judicial Comments [Doc. 24], Plaintiff moves the Court to restrict Defendants from all extra-judicial comments regarding the case. Plaintiff claims such comments may taint the jury pool. Plaintiff cites to Local Rule 83.2 as the legal basis for the motion.

Defendants filed a joint response [Doc. 33], arguing that Plaintiff's motion must be denied because the relief requested would present a constitutionally invalid and unjustifiable prior restraint on the free speech rights of Defendants. Defendants assert that the broad scope of the desired prohibition would deprive Defendants from even mentioning the subject red light program in any forum whatsoever. Further, Defendants state that the constitutional validity of a prior restraint is determined under a strict scrutiny analysis. Accordingly, a plaintiff must present evidence of a clear and present danger of a specific, serious or imminent threat for a prior restraint to be imposed. Defendants argue Plaintiff has failed to produce evidence which would allow a constitutionally valid prior restraint to be imposed.

Plaintiff filed a Supplement to Memorandum in Support of Motion to Restrict Party Extra-judicial Comments [Doc. 38]. Plaintiff's original motion [Doc. 24] was filed on January 8, 2007. In the supplement [Doc. 38], filed on February 15, 2007, Plaintiff asserts that on January 28, 2007, City Judge John R. Rosson, Jr., participated in a two hour radio broadcast regarding the automated enforcement of traffic violations. [Doc. 38-2].

At the hearing, the parties agreed that the case of Karhani v. Meijer, 270 F. Supp. 2d 926 (E.D. Mich. 2003), was applicable, instructive, and precedential. In Karhani, an employee of a local gas station allegedly intimidated and discriminated against the plaintiffs based on their ethnicity. Id., at 928-29. In response, the plaintiffs brought suit and distributed leaflets about the alleged altercation. Id. The leaflets stated the alleged language involved in the incident, "You Arabs get out of here, we don't want to serve you guys. . . .". Id., at 929 (ellipsis in original). The gas station sought to enjoin the distribution of these leaflets, arguing that the leaflets interfered with its ability to obtain a fair trial. Id.

In evaluating whether an injunction should issue, the Eastern District of Michigan noted that "'any prior restraint on expression comes . . . with a 'heavy presumption' against its constitutional validity.'" Id., at 931-32 (citing Org. for a Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U.S. 415, 419 (1971)) (ellipsis in original). Moreover, the court held that a prior restraint is the "'most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.'" Id., at 932 (citing Metro. Opera Ass'n v. Local 100, Hotel Employees & Rest. Employees Int'l Union, 239 F.3d 172, 176 (2nd Cir. 2001)). For a party to prevail on a request for a prior restraint, the movant must demonstrate that the speech to be prohibited poses a grave threat to a "critical government interest" or a constitutional right. Id., at 933 (citing County Sec. Agency v. Ohio Dept. of Comm., 296 F.3d 477, 485 (6th Cir. 2002)). The articulated standard for such a demonstration is that of "clear and present danger." Id. (citing U.S. v. Ford, 830 F.2d 596, 600 (6th Cir. 1987)). By following the above standard, the Karhani court determined that the plaintiffs' leafleting did not pose a serious and imminent threat. Id. The court noted that the litigation was in its infancy, and the sporadic nature of media coverage did not appear to pose a risk to the jury pool. Id. at 933-34. Even if a risk of tainting the jury pool arose, the court noted that vigorous voir dire could alleviate such risk. Id. at 934.

Evaluating the present case in light of Karhani, the Court finds that the only speech presented as evidence of that which is sought to be prohibited is substantially less prejudicial than that found in Karhani. The evidence presented includes:

(1) A February 22, 2006 news article written by Hayes Hickman, a local reporter, regarding the nine sites chosen for cameras. Defendant Catlett was interviewed regarding the need for and location of the new safety program [26-8];

(2) A November 28, 2006 web page written by Sonu Wasu, a local reporter, regarding the implications of the red light camera program. Defendant Catlett was quoted as saying "Our red light running ...


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