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Proposition 8: Gay Marriage Trial Defendant Wants Out Of Case

January 9th, 2010, 04:01 am admin Leave a comment Go to comments

SAN FRANCISCO — An appeals court cleared the way for a pivotal federal trial to decide whether gays can wed in California to be televised.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday turned down a request by the sponsors of the state’s same-sex marriage ban to keep cameras from the trial, set to begin Monday in a San Francisco federal court.

Lawyers for Proposition 8 backers opposed video recording of the trial, saying they feared witnesses might restrain or alter their testimony if cameras are present. Federal trial courts generally prohibit cameras.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who will preside over the trial without a jury, previously approved using court staff to record the proceedings and upload them on YouTube.

The three-judge panel authorized the recording in a brief, one paragraph order.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Gay marriage foes on Friday sought to stop the video recording of Monday’s scheduled trial on the legality of California’s ban of same-sex nuptials so they could appeal a judge’s decision authorizing cameras in the courtroom.

Also on Friday, an outspoken gay marriage opponent serving as an official litigant on the case asked a judge to remove him from the lawsuit because he feared the trial would generate publicity that could endanger him and his family.

Hak-Shing William Tam was one of five people who formally intervened to defend a federal lawsuit filed against the state that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have declined to defend. Tam and the other four interveners were also the official proponents of Proposition 8, which passed in November 2008 and was upheld four months later by the California Supreme Court.

“I dedicated the majority of my working hours between January 2008 and November 2008 toward qualifying Proposition 8 for the ballot and campaigning for its enactment,” the San Francisco resident told the judge in May in urging to be named an official party to the lawsuit.

On Friday, Tam told the court that he was harassed and his property vandalized during the campaign, and feared similar retribution if he continued to represent gay marriage foes’ interest in the lawsuit and trial.

“In the past I have received threats on my life, had my property vandalized and am recognized on the streets due to my association with Proposition 8,” Tam said in a court filing. “Now that the subject lawsuit is going to trial, I fear I will get more publicity, be more recognizable and that the risk of harm to me and my family will increase.”

Tam on Friday didn’t mention the judge’s decision to allow cameras to record the trial, but lawyers representing Proposition 8 interests urged Walker to delay implementing his order while they appeal his recording decision to 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawyers oppose video recording the trial, which the judge will preside over without a jury, because they fear witnesses may restrain or alter their testimony if cameras are present in the courtroom. Federal trial courts generally prohibit cameras in the courtroom.

But with an eye on the Proposition 8 trial, chief judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit announced last month a pilot program to allow cameras to record civil trials decided by a judge without a jury. Kozinski said “being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a better public understanding of our judicial processes and enhanced confidence in the rule of law.”

The appeals court has jurisdiction over federal courts in nine western states and no federal trial in the region has ever allowed cameras. Walker did bar live broadcasts, opting instead to post the proceedings on YouTube.com several hours later.

Lawyers representing the gay couples who filed the lawsuit support cameras in the courtroom. So does a group of media organizations, including The Associated Press, that filed court papers Friday urging the 9th Circuit to uphold Walker’s decision to allow cameras.

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