April 11, 2013
ACLU wins dismissal of criminal charges wrongfully filed against filmmaker who attempted to tape Douglas County School Board Meeting
DENVER – Douglas County prosecutors dropped criminal charges today against ACLU client Brian Malone, a documentary filmmaker who was charged with “disrupting a lawful assembly” when he attempted to videotape a Douglas County School District (DCSD) meeting last summer.
“This decision reinforces that access to public meetings for the media and general public is a fundamental right that should never be criminalized,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.
Mr. Malone was ejected from a DCSD meeting on August 7, 2012, after he placed a video camera tripod in a location that allowed him to capture the faces of the individuals making presentations to the board – the same location where he had been allowed to videotape during several meetings over the previous three months. After a security official objected to the placement of the camera, Malone was removed from the meeting, issued a citation, and told that he could no longer attend any future school board meetings.
The school district lifted its order prohibiting Malone from attending meetings following a letter sent by the ACLU of Colorado on Malone’s behalf. Malone was defended in the criminal case by ACLU cooperating attorneys Daniel Recht, of Recht and Kornfeld, and Steve Zansberg, of Levine, Sullivan, Koch, &Schulz.
“Brian is a filmmaker whose only goal was to capture the dealings of a publicly-elected body so that they could be better known by the public,” said Recht, “They had no right to remove him and definitely no right to charge him with a crime.”
Prosecutors dropped the charges before the Douglas County court was able to rule on a motion to dismiss filed by ACLU attorneys earlier this week. In the motion, Malone’s attorneys argued that the prosecution could not prove that his conduct caused a significant disruption and also that the DCSD’s restrictions on Malone’s newsgathering activities were “overbroad and unjustified restrictions on First Amendment-protected conduct.”
According to a report by Our Colorado News, since 2007, the Douglas County School Board has more than doubled its use of secretive “executive sessions” and dramatically limited the amount of time it spends in public session. “Given these developments,” Zansberg said, “it is particularly important that journalists like Malone not be prevented from reporting on the business and conduct of the board, including the faces of the public when they do have the rare opportunity to address board members.”