The Bonderud Law Firm advocates against censorship from Jacksonville Judge

The Florida Times-Union Reports

Chief Judge Mark Mahon struck his previous administrative order and wrote a new one Tuesday, the same day that two activists filed a federal lawsuit calling his ban against some protests unconstitutional.

Mahon issued an order July 1 that in part banned demonstrations or dissemination of materials on the courthouse grounds that “degrade or call into question the integrity of the court or any of its judges.” The order also banned people from videotaping “all security features” of the courthouse, including any non-public entrance or exit.

Jeff Gray and Thomas Covenant, civil rights activists and reporters for the website Photography is Not a Crime, sued Mahon and Sheriff Mike Williams on Tuesday, saying the new order violated their First-Amendment rights.

Also Tuesday, Mahon wrote a new administrative order that “vacates and supersedes” the previous one. It continues the ban against photography of secure areas and security features, but he eliminated the ban against protests that question the court’s integrity.

Mahon did not return a half-dozen requests for comment Tuesday, Monday and last week.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Andrew Bonderud, the attorney for Gray and Covenant. “There’s no question about that.”

He still intends to move forward with trying to remove the photography ban.

Mahon’s order used the example of a man who filmed judges’ driving out of the secure garage in its justification for the order. The film, the order noted, included their faces and their license plates.

“This disclosure puts the judges in a vulnerable position because the videotape is available on the Internet under the F-T-G label,” according to the order. “Furthermore, it identifies the Duval County Courthouse.”

Earlier Bonderud had said about the original administrative order, “This is ripped straight from the pages of Fidel Castro’s operating plan.”

He said any federal judge would quickly see that the order was unconstitutional. His lawsuit seeks no money, except for attorney’s fees and court costs. The federal court charged $400 to file the lawsuit.

The administrative order, Bonderud wrote in the lawsuit, “targets only one viewpoint for censorship. If two competing groups of protesters were to protest and demonstrate on the grounds of the Duval County Courthouse, with one group holding signs that extol the integrity and virtues of the courts and court personnel, while the competing group is holding signs claiming that the courts and court personnel are ‘biased, dishonest, partial, or prejudiced’ … only the latter group would be subject to arrest for criminal contempt.”

The new order limits protests that “unreasonably disrupt, disturb, interrupt and interfere with the impartial and orderly conduct of the judiciary.” It doesn’t specify that certain viewpoints can’t be demonstrated.

Gray and Covenant filmed outside the judges’ garage last week, and a police officer approached them holding a copy of the new order. He told them if they didn’t obey the order and stop filming the secure entrance, he would arrest them.

That portion of the administrative order still stands.

Bonderud argued that the order should be stopped. If not, he wrote, Gray and Covenant “will continue to suffer.” If a restraint is ordered, “defendants will not sustain any costs or damages.”

Bonderud’s grandparents came to America from Cuba as political refugees, he said before the new order struck the old one. He spent a semester studying in Cuba.

There, he said, the people have a saying. Roughly translated, it means: You can debate in favor of Communism and the Cuban revolution. You just can’t debate against it.

“And that’s exactly what’s going on here. It’s alarming. It’s very, very alarming,” he said. “It’s perfectly analogous to the censorship that goes on in Cuba. It’s such a shame that I have to compare policy in Jacksonville, Florida, the shining city on a hill, to policies that have been used by an oppressive regime in Havana.

“We’re going to do something about it.”


In another article The Florida Times-Union reports...

John Merrett, who served as a circuit judge in Jacksonville from 2007 until 2013, said he wants to see the chief judge remove his ban against some photography. Read more here.