A Florida state court judge has ordered the city of Ft. Lauderdale to quit barring photography in public places around a Hollywood film set. The emergency order, issued on Tuesday, was in response to a lawsuit filed last week by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the the publisher of South Florida Gay News (SFGN). They sued the city because Ft. Lauderdale police, who were reportedly moonlighting as security guards for the production of the film “Rock of Ages,” starring Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin, were preventing photographers and citizens from taking pictures of the set from public sidewalks and streets nearby.
Broward County circuit court judge Michelle Towbin-Singer wrote in her order that the city and its police chief “shall not prohibit or inhibit the taking of photographs at or from any public area surrounding, near or adjacent to the film set…For purposes of this order, the term ‘public area’ shall include any area where members of the public have a right to be, but shall not include areas that have been lawfully closed to access by members of the public.”
The film production began June 6. Police had posted signs around the film set that said “Warning. No Trespassing. Photography of this area is strictly prohibited. Strictly enforced by FLPD. Violators subjet (sic) to arrest. City Ordinance 16-1.” The SPJ and SFGN sued on the grounds that the ban was a violation of first amendment rights. The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) subsequently joined the lawsuit, after the city failed to respond to its request to lift the ban.
Production for the movie ends today, but NPPA attorney Mickey Osterreicher says the plaintiffs will continue to press the lawsuit in order to get a declaratory judgment from the court, stating that such bans violate the constitution. “If we don’t get a declaratory judgment, this will happen all over again” the next time a Hollywood film production comes to town, Osterreicher says. A declaratory judgment by itself won’t prevent city officials from banning photography in the future, he explains, but it would deter such a ban by making it difficult for city officials to claim ignorance and by exposing the city to costly civil penalties.
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