Group files lawsuit against Jacksonville's chief judge

Group called Photography is Not a Crime filed federal lawsuit Tuesday

By Kristin Cason - Assignment editor
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The same day a local photography group filed a lawsuit against Jacksonville's Chief Judge Mark Mahon, he issued a new administrative order barring that group from taking photographs or video on the property of the Duval County Courthouse.

A group called Photography is Not a Crime filed the federal lawsuit Tuesday.

One of the group's members, Jeff Gray, provided News4Jax with a video last week that showed a police officer telling him to stop recording video across the street from the courthouse.

Gray said he was recording the video from an "allowable" area that was based on Mahon's order from last week. Those who are not with credentialed news organizations have been told they are not permitted to film or take photographs in areas directly around the courthouse.

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In the new lawsuit, the group claimed Mahon's order "criminalizes legally protected First Amendment expressive conduct" and "censors political speech."

The group is now asking for an injunction against that order.

Ed Birk, an attorney for News4Jax, said Mahon is working to fix some of the "unconstitutional" flaws in the order.

"He voluntarily amended the order that he issued last week, and he took out some provisions that were clearly unconstitutional and wouldn't withstand attack under the First Amendment," Birk said. "He's made some amendments that move this order in the right direction."

Birk said the current version of the order still allows protesters to be detained.

"There's still provisions in there that would allow a protester to be arrested, restrained, or confined. And there's a proceeding for criminal contempt -- indirect criminal contempt that could be applied," he said.

The main interest of the court, Birk said, is to maintain security at the courthouse and to maintain order so that people visiting the courthouse can conduct their business without any interruptions.

"That's a legitimate government interest, but there are very narrow ways that the court can restrict speech to further that interest, and this order just doesn't do that. It's too broad," Birk said.

The group is now awaiting a response from the court, which has been named as the defendant in the lawsuit.

In the meantime, Birk is working with the court to improve the language in the order.

"There are a number of defects, we think, in the order, and we're working -- WJXT and other media in Jacksonville -- with the court to try to correct these, but we're not done yet," he said. "I understand the court has serious concerns to maintain security, maintain integrity, but this order is just too broad."

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