Judge Michele Towbin listens to SPJ's case.

“The wheels of justice grind slowly but exceedingly fine.”
– anonymous

And sometimes, justice spins its wheels and grinds its gears. Like today.

I got some good news this morning from attorney Norm Kent, who filed a lawsuit last Tuesday to stop Fort Lauderdale cops from banning photography in a huge swath of downtown – because the movie Rock of Ages is filming in one nightclub there. (See A Picture Perfect Protest.)

A judge had moved up an emergency hearing from Wednesday to 4:30 this afternoon. As president of SPJ South Florida, a co-plaintiff in the suit, I was happy to attend. That lasted for about five minutes.

Kent wanted circuit court judge Michele Towbin-Singer to grant an injunction against the cops, but the first 10 minutes consisted of Fort Lauderdale city attorney Harry Stewart trying to weasel out of the hearing. Stewart insisted neither he nor police chief Frank Adderley knew about the hearing until that morning: “We were never served.”

Kent produced paperwork that showed otherwise. It had the signature of Chief Adderley’s “court liaison,” a woman named Rosie.

Stewart said Rosie never gave the paperwork to Adderley. Looking slightly skeptical, Singer asked Stewart when he would be ready.

“Thursday,” he said flatly. That irked Kent, who reminded the judge that Rock of Ages wraps up its Fort Lauderdale shoot on Friday, and besides, the city shouldn’t be able to duck a Constitutional issue because of an absent-minded woman named Rosie. (I’m paraphrasing here, of course. Kent used words like “forthwith.”)

When Judge Singer asked Stewart if he could respond to the injunction request anyway, he replied, “I’m unable not to respond.”

When Singer looked at him like a dog looks at a ringing iPhone, Stewart attempted to clarify…

“What the plaintiff is asking you to do is to enjoin the city from not doing what it’s never done and is not doing now and has no signs to indicate they’re gonna do it.”

As I shook my head in disbelief – it’s not like this on Law & Order – I saw Chief Adderley sitting to my left. He was texting someone…

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.

As Kent insisted he had witnesses who could testify that the cops illegally banned photography downtown, Judge Singer calmly interrupted him and asked Stewart, “Is that happening?”

“We have the police chief who will testify that it’s not happening,” Stewart said. And how does the chief know this? He ordered a police sargeant to investigate.

And how did the sargeant investigate those officers?

“He contacted each and every one,” Stewart replied proudly, “and they say this didn’t happen.”

So that’s how Fort Lauderdale police conduct an investigation? They ask nicely and call it a day?

If I ever commit a capital crime, remind me to do it within Lauderdale city limits. The interrogation room probably has a futon and a Glade Plug-In, and I’ll get a lollipop after I’m questioned.

Kent was so agitated, he blurted out…

“We have witnesses who say the city is doing it anyway! It’s not enough for Mr. Stewart to say, ‘I spoke with the chief and another officer sitting in their air-conditioned offices who say our cops aren’t doing this.'”

Singer did an excellent job of bobbing and weaving between these two old white guys, one bombastic and the other elastic…

She refused to favor either of them. She wasn’t going to hear from any witnesses because, “It’s not an emergency what happened on Friday. It’s in the past.”

But she wasn’t going to postpone the emergency hearing, either. “We’re all here,” she said.

She asked Stewart if he thought the city had the right to ban photography in public places. He replied, “It’s something the city hasn’t done, didn’t do, and isn’t gonna do.”

Singer turned to Kent…

“What you are asking the court to order Fort Lauderdale to do, they’re agreeing to do. … It seems like both of you agree what the City of Fort Lauderdale can and can’t do. … Perhaps we can come to the agreement that the City of Fort Lauderdale is not going to prohibit members of the press from covering the event.”

Kent calmed down, as if Singer’s words were an Ativan to Stewart’s cocaine cocktail of confusion.

“Now if they’re willing to stipulate that they can’t do that, then there’s no emergency,” Kent said, calmer than he’d been since the weirdness began 20 minutes earlier.

But, of course, it wasn’t that simple. Stewart had a “minor, minor change”…

Stewart, mumbling: “If, during the period of time that the street is properly closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic, they can’t be there.”

Judge Singer, talking deliberately, as if to a child: “Right. Then that would not be a public area. But if it’s properly closed, they can be outside of that area, taking photographs and filming. Would you agree to that?”

Stewart, grumpily: “We can agree to that…”

Everyone exhales and starts packing up their shit.

Stewart: “…as long as it can be stipulated that the street can be properly closed.”

Audible sigh from the gallery.

Kent, getting annoyed again: “There’s no question there’s a right to close the street.”

I’ll spare you the rest. Here’s the result: Tomorrow morning, the paparazzi return to downtown Fort Lauderdale to take pictures while standing on public property. They’ll have a copy of Judge Singer’s “agreed order” in their pockets (click to enlarge)…

…and if they get hassled, as Singer says, “We’ll come back here.”

By the way, I learned the paparazzi’s photos of movie stars on the Rock of Ages set fetch around $1,500 apiece. If you thinks that’s obscene, Fort Lauderdale city attorney Harry Stewart makes more than $240,000 a year.

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