A federal judge in San Francisco today ordered a videotape of last year’s trial on Proposition 8 be unsealed and made available to the public.
U.S. District Judge James Ware wrote, “Transparency is pivotal to public perception of the judiciary’s legitimacy and independence.”
But Ware stayed his order allowing release of the video until Sept. 30 to give the sponsors of Proposition 8, who oppose the unsealing, a chance to appeal his ruling.
Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the sponsors’ committee, Protect Marriage, said the group will appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Proposition 8, an initiative enacted by California voters in 2008, bans same-sex marriage in the state.
In last year’s trial, now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker found that the measure violates the federal constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples.
The Proposition 8 sponsors are now seeking to appeal that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Walker’s ruling has been put on hold during the appeal.
In the meantime, trial-level issues in the case, such as the bid to unseal the videotape, have been reassigned to Ware.
The motion to make the videotape public was filed by two same-sex couples who challenged Proposition 8 and by the city of San Francisco. They were joined by 13 media organizations.
Ware said in today’s order that the video is now part of the official record of the trial and that there is a common-law right of public access to trials.
“The court concludes that no compelling reasons exist for continued sealing of the digital recording of the trial,” Ware wrote.
Walker initially planned to allow the video of the trial to be streamed live to several other federal courthouses in other cities and possible broadcast later on a government channel on YouTube.
But the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that plan by a 5-4 vote at the start of the trial in January 2010.
The Proposition 8 supporters argued that the high court’s previous injunction still applied to the video.
But Ware ruled that the Supreme Court ruling was confined to “a narrow legal issue” concerning court rules.
He wrote, “The court finds that the Supreme Court’s opinion does not provide compelling reasons to overcome the strong presumption in favor of public access to the digital recording, now that the trial is over and the digital recording has entered the public record.”
Pugno, speaking for Protect Marriage, said, “Today’s decision is bizarre for many reasons, but mostly because it defies a direct order of the U.S. Supreme Court. We will appeal immediately to the 9th Circuit and ask them to restore some sanity to this case.”
Any ruling by the 9th Circuit can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
American Foundation for Equal Rights board president Chad Griffin said, “This is a significant victory for the American people, who will soon be able to see the evidence put forward by both sides in this historic federal trial.”
The Los Angeles-based foundation sponsored the two couples’ 2009 lawsuit challenging Proposition 8.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News