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Disney Urges Judge to Keep Trial off TV

Television: Company cites security issues in coverage of case of former Mouseketeer robbed in parking lot.

May 30, 1997|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Court TV, the cable network that took viewers gavel to gavel with O.J. Simpson, has its cameras pointed at yet another gloved defendant: Mickey Mouse.

An Orange County Superior Court judge is expected to decide next week whether to let the network provide live coverage in the case of a former Mouseketeer who is suing the Walt Disney Co. after she and her family were robbed in the Disneyland parking lot.

Billie Jean Matay has charged the theme park with negligence and false imprisonment in connection with the 1995 incident, which is set for trial June 3. Her suit also claims that Disneyland inflicted "emotional distress" on her three grandchildren when they were allowed to see performers remove their character costumes in a backstage area, thus "exposing the children to the reality that the Disney characters were, in fact, make-believe."

It's not exactly the trial of the century, but Court TV's coverage would give 29 million households a window into the Magic Kingdom, absent the usual coating of pixie dust.

Disneyland spokesman Tom Brocato said the park's main objection to televised coverage is that it could compromise park security.

Testimony will focus heavily on details of Disneyland's parking lot procedures. That information could provide a blueprint for thugs to prey on unsuspecting visitors, Brocato said.

Thus, Disney is working to persuade Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Luesebrink to seal court records, close the courtroom to the public and press "where necessary," and ban TV cameras from the civil proceedings.

A lawsuit that was fodder for late-night talk show comedians when it was first filed is suddenly raising serious concerns about a company's right to secrecy versus First Amendment freedom.

"Big companies like Disney don't like these kinds of events publicized," said Guylyn Cummins, attorney for Court TV, which is managed by Time Warner Inc. "They definitely don't want evidence of any crimes getting out to the public, which is all the more reason why the public is entitled to know."

Rules passed in the wake of the Simpson criminal trial give state judges wide latitude to ban cameras from their courtrooms. Still, Luesebrink indicated in a hearing last week that he is leaning toward allowing Court TV to cover the proceedings, though perhaps with some restrictions.

Matay and her attorney have raised no objections to televised coverage of the trial.

Matay was a member of the 24-member Mouseketeer entertainment troupe that performed at the 1955 opening of Disneyland and occasionally on "The Mickey Mouse Club" television series.

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