Fort Lauderdale's recent bumbling over an unlawful ban on photography by the producers of Rock of Ages took a weird turn in court yesterday. Hibernatory City Attorney Harry Stewart and cane-wielding lawyer-provocateur Norm Kent stood off in the courtroom like two Southern grandpas rocking on a porch somewhere, refusing to admit that they actually agree with each other.
Their foil was the perfectly deadpan Judge Michele Towbin Singer. The situation: Kent is suing the city on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and South Florida Gay News. Yesterday he wanted the judge to issue an injunction, which would keep city cops from enforcing the bogus photo ban (which they were doing in true Keystone fashion as recently as Friday).
Meanwhile, Stewart claimed that the city wasn't enforcing or condoning the dumb rules in the first place.
"What Mr. Kent is asking you to do is to enjoin the city to not do what it has never done," Stewart told the judge and later repeated to a television camera.
Meanwhile, Police Chief Frank Adderley, a named defendant in Kent's ongoing lawsuit, sat in the gallery texting his friends. Michael Koretzky of the SPJ caught a peek at the messages he was sending:
All I saw was the end of a text asking him about "being sued? How's it going?"
Adderley was typing, "Bad. Judge don't understand."
Adderley saw me and cupped his phone. I wasn't embarrassed at being caught snooping because I was still trying to figure out how he could understand.
Koretzky was periodically leaning forward and prodding Ralph Notaro, a rankled paparazzo with a stake in the lawsuit, to snap photographs of the proceedings (and Adderley, who was sitting next to him).
The crux of the matter were some signs posted by the movie production company which warned that people who took photographs of the movie set (even from public property) would be "SUBJET (sic) TO ARREST," citing an irrelevant city ordinance.
"The city requested that [the signs] be taken down as soon as it came to our notice," Stewart told the judge.
But "the law enforcement is continuing to enforce the regulatory ban," argued Kent.
Stewart offered to call Adderley and a sergeant "to testify that that is not happening."
Kent offered to call photographers to testify that it was happening.
Finally, Singer offered to issue an order that would confirm the legality of taking pictures from public rights-of-way. Which the city says it has always honored anyway.
As for the few cops whom Koretzky documented harassing photographers during a provocatory protest of the ban on Friday? Seems they must be misinformed and overzealous. That's the thing nobody at the hearing wanted to say: The city can agree to what it's already agreed to, and Kent can call out the bureaucrats until he's blue in the face, but unless specific orders of behavior make it all the way down the ranks to the police on the street, people are likely to run into unpredictable situations and illegal enforcement.
As Kent said: "We have witnesses who say the city is doing it. It's not enough for Mr. Stewart to say he spoke with the chief and another officer in their air-conditioned offices on the second floor."
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Update 2:20 p.m.: Kent sent us a copy of the judge's order.