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Judge Upholds Vote, Despite Council's Conduct

September 17, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

It may be rude for the City Council to chat, snack and surf the Internet during public hearings, but it's not illegal, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The attorney for a Lincoln Heights strip club had asked Superior Court Judge David Yaffe to throw out the council's vote against extended hours at the club, on the grounds that they had not paid attention during the hearing.

As evidence, attorney Roger Jon Diamond submitted a videotape of his June 13 appearance before the City Council. The tape shows elected officials chatting on cell phones, eating and laughing at private jokes with each other as the public hearing for the Blue Zebra's request to stay open until 4 a.m. goes on around them.

"The videotape is shocking," Diamond wrote to the court. "It demonstrates rudeness, arrogance and more important, a total lack of attention paid to the speakers.... It is about time some court tells the City Council ... that it may not conduct quasi-judicial hearings in the manner in which it conducted this proceeding."

But Yaffe passed on the request that he tell the council what to do, ruling from the bench that the council's vote could stand.

The Los Angeles city attorney's office, which defended the council, had argued that a successful suit by Diamond would open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits. Still, a spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said that his office was not defending rude behavior.

"We're pleased with the ruling to the extent that it prevents an expansion of the strip club hours, but at the same time, the city attorney believes that the citizens have a right to be heard by their elected leaders," said a Delgadillo spokesman.

Diamond said he would appeal. He said he still believes that when council members are hearing appeals of decisions made by other bodies, as they were when they overruled a zoning administrator, they are required to pay attention.

Diamond also argued that the council can overturn a zoning administrator's decision only if they believe the administrator has made a legal error or committed an abuse. The council did not do that in this case.

"This is going to be a landmark ruling," he said.

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