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Judge Rejects Gay Group's Plea on Parade Insurance

May 08, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has declined to issue a ruling involving the Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride parade and festival in a case that the group's attorney says has far-reaching implications on free speech activities in Long Beach.

Judge Barnet M. Cooperman rejected the organizers' request to strike a city requirement for liability insurance coverage and reimbursement of the city's costs for the annual events. The group also seeks reimbursement of fees it paid to the city in past years.

Cooperman said Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc.'s lawsuit will have to be decided at a full trial.

"The board of directors is disappointed the judge felt he couldn't rule on the evidence as presented," said Judith Doyle, founder and vice president of Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc., a nonprofit organization. "We may appeal it. . . . In an event we choose not to, we feel very confident in terms of a trial that we have strong evidence to support our contentions."

Attorneys said that Cooperman's decision means that Lesbian and Gay Pride organizers must have liability insurance and be prepared to reimburse the city for this year's parade and festival, scheduled May 14 and 15.

About 1,000 participants were drawn to the 1.7-mile parade last year along Ocean Boulevard from Cherry Avenue to Pine Avenue and to the festival in Shoreline Aquatic Park. The festival and parade events first began in June, 1984, with about 300 attending.

Each year, the city has charged between $10,583 and $18,583 to cover its costs. The gay group has struck an agreement by which it only has to pay 25% of the costs to the city. The remainder is deposited in an account pending resolution of the lawsuit.

Doyle said that the down payment this year will amount to $6,000, with $18,000 on deposit. Of the $24,000 in anticipated costs, Doyle said about $15,000 is for the parade and the rest is for costs associated with the festival.

The city's charges are for such tasks as posting "No Parking" signs, erecting barricades for the parade and policing the park for the festival, she said.

In addition, the group must obtain a $1-million liability insurance policy for the parade and festival, she said. The policy cost $12,000 last year, but could cost substantially less this year because a major portion, covering the serving of alcoholic beverages, remains in force.

William E. Weinberger, the attorney representing festival organizers, said the judge's decision not to rule is a blow to his clients and to all groups in the city with activities involving free expression.

"I think the fact the ordinance makes no provision for groups or people who want to exercise their right to free speech, (but) cannot afford the departmental service charges, violates the protections of free speech under the California and U.S. constitutions," he said.

Cooperman said he could not issue a ruling because the city and the organizers disagree on many facts on which a final decision would rest. The lesbian and gay group, for instance, says the city has paid fees for other organizations' events but has denied the gay group the same arrangement because it advocates gay rights.

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