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Media parking fees for Jackson case repealed

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Media parking fees for Jackson case repealed

  • Broadcast media groups will not have to pay $400-a-day parking fees to cover the Michael Jackson child molestation case from the Santa Maria courthouse in California.

Feb. 18, 2004 — Santa Barbara County supervisors decided last week to cease charging television news stations parking fees to cover Michael Jackson’s child molestation case, expressing concern over a possible lawsuit from the media.

County officials had proposed that the board raise the Santa Maria courthouse’s parking rental fee from $250, which media outlets paid for Jackson’s Jan. 16 arraignment, to $400 for a Feb. 13 preliminary hearing. However, after attorneys representing several local and national broadcast news organizations contested the constitutionality of the fees, the board decided Feb. 10 to eliminate what amounted to a licensing charge.

National TV stations claimed the fees were discriminatory because print journalists were provided free parking at a nearby mall, and local TV outlets in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara were exempt from the fee, said Theodore Boutrous Jr., the media attorney representing NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN and Court TV.

Boutrous filed a letter Feb. 3 objecting to any parking charge, and asked for the matter to be heard at the Feb. 10 board meeting. Boutrous wrote that the county’s decision to impose the parking fee on the broadcast media “in order to recoup the costs associated with the large crowds at the Jackson proceedings . . . violates the First Amendment.”

“This was discriminatory taxing of the media,” Boutrous said.

In suspending future parking fees for media outlets, the board said discussions need to be held between county officials and news representatives to determine how to accommodate the press without causing an expense to taxpayers.

Boutrous said the broadcasters did not object to working with officials to pay any special costs incurred by their presence, such as an additional phone line. But every media group objected to any parking fee, he said.

According to the proposal from the General Services Department in Santa Maria, the raised fee would have been imposed in the days prior to and after the hearing to offset additional county costs, including additional staff for public safety, maintenance, security and parking personnel.

The department estimated that the potential cost for parking management between Feb. 11 and Feb. 15 would have been $25,000.

The board insisted that no media could reserve spaces or park overnight in the county facility. Without money for extra security, the county did not want to be held liable for the trucks and equipment, the Santa Barbara News-Press reported Feb. 11.

County Supervisor Joni Gray further said TV satellite trucks would not be permitted to enter the courthouse parking lot until it opened to the public Friday morning. Television crews typically need more time to set up their equipment.

Bob Nesbit, a county official who presented the fee increase proposal, told the Los Angeles Times that broadcasters could have parked for as long as they wanted if they had agreed to pay the increased fees.

In the Scott Peterson murder trial, another high-profile case, officials in San Mateo County and media representatives are currently working out a deal that will lower the county’s original $51,000 six-month parking fee, according to the San Mateo County Times.


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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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