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Judge to Permit TV Coverage of Disney Trial

Courts: Arguments that broadcasting ex-Mouseketeer's lawsuit will compromise the park's security are rejected.

June 03, 1997|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Overruling the objections of the Walt Disney Co., an Orange County Superior Court judge said Monday that he will permit televised coverage in the upcoming trial involving a former Mouseketeer who is suing the company after being robbed in the Disneyland parking lot.

Disney had argued that broadcasting the proceedings would divulge security procedures to criminals who could use that knowledge to prey on visitors to the Anaheim park.

But Judge Richard W. Luesebrink said Monday that he will allow the trial network Court TV to bring cameras into the courtroom, though he may set some restrictions on what can be shown.

The judge will listen to further arguments on the matter at a hearing June 20. Luesebrink said he wants to hear more justification from Disney as to why the company wants a raft of witness testimony excluded from coverage.

The trial was scheduled to begin today, but Robert O'Connor, attorney for plaintiff Billie Jean Matay, has asked for a continuance of several weeks because of a conflict in his schedule.

In briefs filed with the court, Disney has tried to persuade Luesebrink to deny television coverage, seal court records and close the courtroom to the press and public "where necessary" to protect Disney's confidential security arrangements.

Disney attorney Stephen Waimey denied Monday that the company's requests were in any way an infringement on press freedom or the people's right of access to public courts.

"This is a sideshow," Waimey said. "We are concerned about the security of our guests."

However, Court TV attorney Guylyn Cummins said she will oppose Disney's attempts to limit what can be broadcast.

"They haven't shown there is a security risk," Cummins said.

Former Mouseketeer Matay, her daughter Denise Bennett and Bennett's three children were robbed at gunpoint by a lone assailant in the Disneyland parking lot on Aug. 17, 1995.

Matay is suing the theme park for negligence and false imprisonment in connection with that incident, alleging that Disneyland security was slow to respond and held the family for interrogation "against their will."

The suit also contends that Disneyland inflicted "emotional distress" on her three grandchildren when they were separated from their mother and allowed to see park 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."

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