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Photojournalist seeks court assistance in reporting access

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A Nevada photojournalist petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) Feb. 14 to immediately appeal a…

A Nevada photojournalist petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) Feb. 14 to immediately appeal a Nevada district court's inaction on her attempt to remove restrictions on access to wild horse roundups and warehouse facilities, which, she claimed, functions as a prior restraint.

Laura Leigh, a wild horse journalist, photojournalist and correspondent for Horseback Magazine, has covered wild horse roundups and warehouses, which are "operated, managed and/or maintained with U.S. government funds and are controlled" by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to Leigh's petition.

She claims that, in response to disliking "her published subject and seeking to avoid further 'negative press,'" the Bureau of Land Management cut-off Leigh’s "close-up access to observe crucial moments of wild horse captures," and "singled-out Ms. Leigh in punishment for her having publicly disseminated the videos and photos of the Respondents activities." Leigh said she is "blocked, repeatedly," from gaining access to a matter of "significant public interest."

Leigh originally filed for a temporary restraining order against the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada district court on July 16, 2010. The court affirmed Leigh's right to view wild horse roundups on public lands, but allowed the bureau to continue a policy of gathering horses by helicopter.

Leigh filed suit again on July 23, 2010, challenging the Bureau of Land Management's helicopter policy and decision to gather on private lands, thereby precluding her access to gather information about the roundups. The court denied the motion on July 27. Leigh filed for reconsideration on July 30, asking for a temporary restraining order of a particular roundup that was going to occur on Aug. 2, 2010. However, the court didn't rule on the filing until Aug. 12 and ruled the case was moot because the roundup already occurred.

On Sept. 22, 2010, Leigh filed for declaratory and injunctive relief in the same court as her previous suit. She sought to prohibit the bureau from doing a helicopter roundup of wild horses in an area known as Silver King Herd Management Area until she was allowed access to the facility, but, according to her petition, the court denied the motion because the roundup had not occurred yet. On Nov. 16, after the roundup had ceased, the court held evidentiary hearings, but has not decided on the matter.

In her petition to the Ninth Circuit, Leigh argued that the district court’s inaction is an effective denial of the requested relief; that such restrictions on the press are not permissible; and that a court should not apply mootness to forego review when conduct repeats, but ceases, before the court's review. The petition expressed Leigh's concern that "the [Bureau's]’ efforts causes a chilling effect on speech and expression."

"The case in a nutshell is about transparency. It's about me, as a free press, being able to exercise my First Amendment right and inform the public of the actions of our government and the handling of wild horses," Leigh said.

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