CALIFORNIA–Faced with a preliminary injunction banning enforcement of a state newsrack statute and a warning from the judge who issued it, Attorney General Dan Lungren issued a letter to all California police and prosecutors in late-April instructing them not to enforce the law.
Federal District Judge Manuel Real of Los Angeles had threatened Lungren with possible jail time on a contempt-of-court charge if he did not suspend enforcement of the law, which bans the sale of adult publications in coin racks accessible to minors.
Real originally had suspended enforcement of the law while opponents of the measure proceeded with a court challenge, arguing that the statute violated their First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of the press. When Kern County investigators seized 17 coin-operated vending machines despite the enforcement ban, Real threatened Lungren with contempt.
Following Real’s order, Lungren argued in the press that the state constitution did not authorize him to bar enforcement of a law just because a directive to stop had been issued.
But the attorney general issued the enforcement-ban letter on the day Real had set as a deadline before sending Lungren to jail.
“I’m willing to go to jail for some very, very strong, important constitutional principles,” Lungren told the Associated Press. “I’m not sure I found this one on my list.”
Lungren has said he is concerned whether he still would be held in contempt if a district attorney or police officer violated his directive.
Steve Telliano, a spokesman for Lungren, said the letter should fully comply with Real’s demands, but added that the state’s top law enforcer still is studying options to “redress the injury to the state that occurs when a statute is enjoined in such a manner.”
An appeal had not been filed as of late April.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.