Sound and Fury: Can the courts use the news media as a tool to help the prosecution, defense or a plaintiff?

A judge has ordered the Santa Barbara Daily Sound to turn over 140 unpublished photos of a crime scene-or else. But the paper wouldn’t be threatened with contempt if this was a civil case, thanks to a 1990 ruling involving the News-Press. Attorney Mike Cooney reminded me Monday of when then-chief NP photographer Bob Ponce was ordered to turn over unpublished photos he took at a Highway 101 crash scene.

On the Beat

Bob told me Monday that a professor injured in the crash was suing the maker of the VW bus he was riding in. The case went all the way up to the California Supreme Court. Was the NP protected by state law shielding newspapers against this sort of probing? Yes, the Supreme Court ruled. But in criminal cases, it’s a case-by-case matter. Cooney is now representing the Daily Sound, fighting Superior Court Judge Brian Hill’s decision Monday that the daily must fork over the photos by Friday at 4 p.m. or face a contempt hearing Monday at 8:30 a.m.

That’s just two hours before a preliminary hearing is due to start over charges that a 14-year-old boy killed another boy with a knife on State Street last March. Deputy public defender Karen Atkins wants those photos, though it’s not clear why she wants them. Does she believe there is specific evidence to be shown or is it just a fishing expedition?

In an editorial Tuesday, Sound editor and publisher Jeramy Gordon vowed to go to jail before he’d turn over the photos. But he worried that the Judge Hill might instead punish the paper by assessing fines against the small business.

But Judge Hill went out on a judicial limb-and faces having it cut off behind him-when he threatened at Monday’s hearing to bar Sound reporters from covering the any hearings about the case if he wasn’t able to find the paper in contempt.

That outrageous-and certainly unenforceable-threat sounds as though the judge has gotten overly emotional over the issue, and about the paper, and might consider recusing himself from further proceedings.

If the Sound refuses to turn over the photos Friday, the scenario that’s shaping up looks like this: If found in contempt Monday, the paper would likely seek a writ in the district court of appeals temporarily staying Judge Hill’s action pending a future hearing on the issues.

In some cases, such a stay can be obtained in a day or so, I’m told.

But if Atkins wins the right to the Sound photos, it seems likely that she’ll make the same demand of any unpublished pictures taken by the News-Press, Independent or other media. If she doesn’t, she could be accused of singling out the Sound and not caring who else photographed what.

Meanwhile, a 14-year-old boy faces murder charges.

Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah’s Obama Bash Sold Out: Not surprising, but word from Chicago says Oprah Winfrey’s Sept. 8 fundraiser for Barack Obama at her Montecito digs is sold out. In fact, some members of Obama’s finance committee have been allotted only seven tickets to the $2,300 affair. There’s a waiting list, though, in case you’re interested. Otherwise, Santa Barbaran Nancy Koppelman, human rights activist, is inviting about 100 Obama donors to a lunch before Oprah’s bash.

NP Fiesta Siesta: For many a year at the News-Press, I labored over the annual Fiesta edition, which sometimes consisted of two huge special sections but more recently had tapered down to one. But there was always a big deal about the celebration happening right outside our doors on De la Guerra Plaza. But in this Sunday’s paper, there was no special section, just a few photos pulled from the archives and a quiz. Guess the staff was too busy covering the hard news.

The 2007 Fiesta poster

Wine Time: Pre-Fiesta kicked off with sips of wine from 30 wineries Saturday instead of gulps of traditional margaritas. First, party people jammed Paul Beking’s Elements restaurant for fine wine tasting and plates of his best cooking. And schmoozing. How, I wondered, could la presidenta Kelly Magne look so cool and collected on the packed patio? She edged through the crowd to where Fred Brander was pouring, but reached not for a glass of his best, but a pitcher of ice water. While Sue took pictures, I spent so much time out there that by the time I headed for the food, it had all been gobbled up. But I wasn’t sunk, because right across the street in the Courthouse Sunken Gardens, the Old Spanish Days wine tasting and food event was starting. One of the best wines I tasted was poured by folks at Demetria, on Foxen Canyon Road. Owner John Zahoudanis was born in a small village at the foot of Mt. Olympus and helped tend his family’s modest vineyard in Greece. He dreamed of owning a vineyard of his own and now he has. No Mexican food was on the buffet tables, but hey, we’ll be chowing down on the hot stuff for the rest of the week. And yes, I’ll be eating my way through Fiesta once again. Art lover Mercedes Eichholz keeps chiding me about my spare tire, but this isn’t the week to deflate it.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or (805) 965-5205. He writes online columns Tuesdays, Fridays and other days, and a print column on Thursdays.


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