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Restraining Order Against City Lifted

October 14, 1998|MARINA MALIKOFF

A federal judge Tuesday lifted a restraining order against the city of Ventura, tentatively ruling Avenue TV Cable has no right to videotape a series of public workshops on cable service.

U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow withheld a final ruling, giving the cable operator until Thursday to file additional arguments. The city then has until Monday to respond to Avenue TV Cable's arguments.

A final decision is expected next week.

During the hearing in Los Angeles, Morrow also suggested that both sides try to work something out. "It does strike me that both the city and Avenue TV Cable and probably the citizens would best be served . . . if all sit down," Morrow said. "Some accommodation on both sides seems to be warranted."

The action came a week after city officials and focus-group participants barred Avenue TV Cable from a workshop on what residents would like from their cable providers.

Avenue TV then obtained a temporary restraining order against the city, preventing it from barring the cable company from videotaping such workshops.

On Tuesday, Morrow rejected arguments by Avenue TV Cable that said the city was in violation of state open meeting laws, the Federal Communications Act and the station's 1st Amendment rights.

But Morrow was not convinced the focus groups, led by a consultant under contract to the city, constitute a public hearing as defined by the Brown Act, the state open-meetings law that governs how public agencies do business.

The focus groups "are a little bit of a hybrid animal, and that is where the problem lies," Morrow said.

Avenue TV Cable attorney Geoffrey Thomas argued the ban on Avenue TV Cable's activities was not placed on other members of the media and that once a meeting has been declared open to the public, the city cannot allow some members of the media to be present and exclude others.

Morrow said the more the city restricts Avenue TV Cable, the more difficult it becomes for her to defend her ruling.

City Atty. Robert Boehm said Avenue TV Cable has a stake in the outcome of the meetings, and thus cannot be compared to other members of the media.

"The irony is that Avenue TV Cable is portraying themselves as a member of the media," Boehm said. "They are not a disinterested member of the media."

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