NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court, KNBC-TV

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtGEORGE; MOSK, J., KENNARD, J., BAXTER, J., WERDEGAR, J., CHIN, J., and BROWN
Citation86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778,20 Cal.4th 1178
Parties, 980 P.2d 337, 99 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 5922 NBC SUBSIDIARY (), INC., et al., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent; Sondra Locke et al., Real Parties in Interest
Docket NumberNo. S056924,KNBC-TV
Decision Date27 July 1999

Page 778

86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778
20 Cal.4th 1178, 980 P.2d 337, 99 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 5922
NBC SUBSIDIARY (KNBC-TV), INC., et al., Petitioners,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent;
Sondra Locke et al., Real Parties in Interest.
No. S056924.
Supreme Court of California
July 27, 1999.

Page 781

Karlene W. Goller; Davis Wright Tremaine, Kelli L. Sager, Karen N. Frederiksen and Todd D. Thibodo, Los Angeles, for Petitioners Los Angeles Times and California Community News.

Anne H. Egerton; Patricia Duncan; Williams & Connolly, Kevin T. Baine, Nicole K. Seligman and Craig D. Singer, Fresno, for Petitioner NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc.

Borton, Petrini & Conron and Tobias A. Dorsey, Bakersfield, for California Broadcasters Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioners.

Levine Pierson Sullivan & Koch and James E. Grossberg, Irvine, for ABC, Inc., American Society of Newspaper Editors, Cable News Network, Inc., California Newspaper Publishers Association, CBS Inc., the Copley Press, Inc., the Hearst Corporation, Magazine Publishers of America, Inc., McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., National Association of Broadcasters, Newspaper Association of America, the New York Times Company, the Orange County Register, Press-Enterprise Company, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Washington Post as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioners.

De Witt W. Clinton and Lloyd W. Pellman, County Counsel, and Frederick R. Bennett, Assistant County Counsel, for Respondent.

Leah Saffian, Encino, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Respondent.

No appearance for Real Parties in Interest.

GEORGE, C.J.

In a civil trial involving prominent figures in the entertainment industry, respondent Superior Court of Los Angeles County issued orders excluding the public and the press from all courtroom proceedings held outside the presence of the jury, and sealing the transcripts of those proceedings. The trial court thereafter held numerous closed courtroom proceedings during the first four days of trial after the

Page 782

jury was sworn. Subsequently, petitioners NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. (hereafter KNBC), the Los Angeles Times, and California Community News sought and obtained from the Court of Appeal a writ of mandate, vacating the trial court's closure order on the ground that the findings of respondent court did not support blanket exclusion of the public and the press from all proceedings held outside the presence of the jury. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

As we shall explain, the United States Supreme Court and numerous unanimous lower courts have held that the First Amendment of the federal Constitution generally precludes closure of substantive courtroom proceedings in criminal cases unless a trial court provides notice to the public on the question of closure and after a hearing finds that (i) there exists an overriding interest supporting closure; (ii) there is a substantial probability that the interest will be prejudiced absent closure; (iii) the proposed closure is narrowly tailored to serve that overriding interest; and (iv) there is no less restrictive means of achieving that overriding interest. Under established principles of statutory interpretation, we must construe California's long-standing "open court" statute (Code of Civil Procedure section 124, hereafter section 124) consistently with these constitutional requirements, and applying section 124, as so construed, to ordinary civil proceedings, we conclude that the trial court in this case failed to comply with these requirements. Accordingly, the trial court's closure order improperly denied the public and the press access to these proceedings, in violation of section 124. Although we recognize that the trial court reasonably was concerned with the risk that the jury in this highly publicized matter might learn of inadmissible evidence or information if the proceedings outside the presence of the jury were held in open court, recent decisions make clear that, as a general matter, frequent and specific cautionary admonitions to the jury and clear and direct instructions, rather than closure of the courtroom to the public, constitute the accepted, presumptively adequate, and typically less restrictive means of dealing with this potential problem.

I

Plaintiff Sondra Locke sued defendant Clint Eastwood for deceit, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and breach of fiduciary duty arising out of alleged promises by Eastwood to assist Locke in the development of motion picture projects.

Shortly after the jury was sworn, the trial court on September 10, 1996, issued on its own motion an oral order stating that "all proceedings in the case that are held outside the presence of the jury will be closed to the public and the press." Thereafter, on the morning of September 11, the court commenced a series of hearings held in the courtroom, from which the jury and the public--including the press--were excluded. These September 11 hearings concerned the permissible content of opening statements to the jury, the content of jury instructions, the scope of a subpoena and a witness's proposed testimony, and a stipulation by defendant. After counsel for plaintiff objected to the court's suggestion that a key piece of evidence should be withheld from the press, the court stated: "I want to put one thing on record but just to protect us all. The reason that this court is excluding anyone that is not a participant in this case, including the press or even any court watchers is to ensure that the only information that the press has is that what the jury sees and nothing else because I do not want to have a situation I have seen in other cases where the press reports something that was out of the presence of the jury and then, somehow, someone reads it. [p] And for that reason, ... I'm setting something a little different in this case. The press is entitled to what the jury is entitled to see, and I do not believe the

Page 783

press is entitled to see what the jury does not see to ensure a fair and impartial jury and to make sure the jury is unable to obtain information that is done out of the presence of the jury. [p] The transcript is sealed.... [T]he only part of the transcript that is available to anyone outside of the ... plaintiff or the defendant, is that which was before the jury, and everything else is sealed by this court order."

Subsequently, plaintiff made her opening statement to the jury, immediately after which the courtroom was cleared of the public and the press. Defendant then moved for a nonsuit, briefly argued the point, and the court took the matter under submission. Thereafter the courtroom was reopened and the defense made its opening statement to the jury, at the conclusion of which the courtroom again was cleared of the public and the press. The court discussed with the parties a proposed stipulation concerning another of plaintiff's witnesses, and the scheduling of that witness, and then mentioned that it would "have to call NBC" and that it would "put out a statement" setting forth its reasons for closing the courtroom to the public and the press when the jury was not present.

Thereafter, the court issued the following order: "The primary purpose of this court is that the litigants appear before a fair and impartial jury untainted by information obtained that was not presented to the jury. This jury is not sequestered, and to prevent the jury from hearing information regarding evidence that may not be presented to the jury or is not relevant to these proceeding[s], it is necessary that only the litigants and their attorneys be present during those discussions with the court. This court is available to everyone to hear all argument and evidence that is presented to the jury. This court has instructed the bailiff to clear the courtroom of everyone other than the litigants and their attorneys at every break and when the jury is not present."

The afternoon session of the trial commenced in the courtroom, out of the presence of the public and the press. The court again discussed with the parties the scope of proposed testimony and whether proposed witnesses were adverse and could be asked leading questions. Thereafter the public, the press, and the jury were admitted back into the courtroom for the testimony of plaintiff's first two witnesses. During a subsequent recess from which the public and the press were excluded from the courtroom, the court heard arguments concerning the permissible scope of testimony by plaintiff.

On Thursday, September 12, testimony by plaintiff resumed before the jury in open court. Prior to the close of her direct examination, but after the public, the press, and the jury were excluded from the courtroom, defendant moved for a mistrial on the ground that plaintiff's testimony addressed matters that were not in issue. After extended discussion, the court resolved to deal with defendant's concerns through instructions to the jury. Thereafter the court stated to the parties that it had amended the written order issued the previous day, to add the following penultimate sentence: "This court has insufficient room in chambers for litigants and counsel, so these proceedings in the absence of the jury are held in the courtroom as an extension of chambers." The court also mentioned that it would meet with a representative of "NBC" at 1:30 p.m.

The hearing on petitioner KNBC's ex parte "Application to Vacate Closure Order" apparently was held in the closed courtroom without the presence of the parties, the public, or the press; only counsel for KNBC, the judge, and a court reporter were present. Petitioner KNBC asserted in its moving papers that the trial court's closure order violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 2 of the California Constitution. The court began by asking...

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200 practice notes
  • Litmon v. Superior Court, No. H027346.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 4, 2004
    ...the public interest that is `"`capable of repetition, yet evading review.'"'" (NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1190 at fn. 6, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337, quoting from Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (1986) 478 U.S. 1, 6, 106 S.Ct. 2735, ......
  • Alvarado v. Superior Court, No. S059827.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 17, 2000
    ...a murder trial, in view of the "unusual security risks" posed by the trial]; NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1222, fn. 46, 86 Cal. Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337 [noting that among the "overriding interests" that may justify closure of a courtroom in an a......
  • Oiye v. Fox
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 11, 2012
    ...a request to close the courtroom doors to trial spectators, as was the court in NBC Subsidiary (KNBC–TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337. Instead, the issue before us is whether part of plaintiff's medical records should remain exposed to pub......
  • People v. Mosley, No. S187965.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 2, 2015
    ...will not “render[ ] a decision on constitutional grounds.” ( 185 Cal.Rptr.3d 273NBC Subsidiary (KNBC–TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1190, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337 ; see College Hospital Inc. v. Superior Court (1994) 8 Cal.4th 704, 720–721, 34 Cal.Rptr.2d 898, 88......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
200 cases
  • Litmon v. Superior Court, No. H027346.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 4, 2004
    ...the public interest that is `"`capable of repetition, yet evading review.'"'" (NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1190 at fn. 6, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337, quoting from Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (1986) 478 U.S. 1, 6, 106 S.Ct. 2735, ......
  • Alvarado v. Superior Court, No. S059827.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 17, 2000
    ...a murder trial, in view of the "unusual security risks" posed by the trial]; NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1222, fn. 46, 86 Cal. Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337 [noting that among the "overriding interests" that may justify closure of a courtroom in an a......
  • Oiye v. Fox
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 11, 2012
    ...a request to close the courtroom doors to trial spectators, as was the court in NBC Subsidiary (KNBC–TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337. Instead, the issue before us is whether part of plaintiff's medical records should remain exposed to pub......
  • People v. Mosley, No. S187965.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 2, 2015
    ...will not “render[ ] a decision on constitutional grounds.” ( 185 Cal.Rptr.3d 273NBC Subsidiary (KNBC–TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1190, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 778, 980 P.2d 337 ; see College Hospital Inc. v. Superior Court (1994) 8 Cal.4th 704, 720–721, 34 Cal.Rptr.2d 898, 88......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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