San Diego ACLU Seeks to Gag SDGE’s Gag Order Request
SAN DIEGO – In a brief filed yesterday, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties defended the First Amendment against an unjustified attempt to impose a gag order on the parties to a controversial discrimination case against San Diego Gas & Electric Company.
In February 2011, Bilal Abdullah filed suit against SDG&E in San Diego Superior Court, claiming that the company unlawfully terminated him when he complained about racial discrimination. SDG&E denies the claims. Before trial was scheduled to begin on October 19, 2012, SDG&E asked the court to restrict the First Amendment rights of the parties and lawyers to talk about the case. SDG&E complained that pretrial publicity was unfavorable to its case, although SDG&E took full advantage of the opportunity to state its position in the press. SDG&E also offered no evidence on how many people in the San Diego jury pool actually saw the limited media coverage of the case, especially in the current news cycle dominated by election stories and other matters.
The court denied the initial request for a gag order but agreed to continue the trial until early January. Still not satisfied, SDG&E renewed its request for a gag order. The San Diego ACLU then joined the case to oppose this unjustified attempt to infringe First Amendment rights.
“First Amendment rights don’t stop at the courthouse door,” said David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “The public has a strong interest in hearing about this kind of case, and courts may not restrain the speech of lawyers and parties to litigation on mere speculation that it might influence potential jurors. Courts can ensure fair trials without violating the First Amendment.”
Dan Gilleon, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit against SDG&E, believes SDG&E’s request for a gag order is consistent with the company’s retaliatory conduct in the underlying case. “It’s ironic the way SDG&E is targeting me for speaking to the media just like it targeted my client for speaking out against racism at SDG&E,” Gilleon said. “When will SDG&E learn that free speech is part of the Bill of Rights?”
The motion for a gag order will be heard in San Diego Superior Court before Judge Jeffrey Barton, Department 69, at 9:00 a.m. on November 9, 2012. The Mitchell | Gilleon and Simpson-Moore law firms represent Abdullah in his discrimination case against SDG&E.
The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties fights for equal protection under the law for all people.