INGLEWOOD (CBSLA.com) — A man is taking on Inglewood in a vocal way as the city remains involved in a bitter legal battle with a number of its own residents.
The mayor of Inglewood is one of the key figures in the dispute, as the residents and their attorneys say that this is an issue of free speech.
While one of the less-desirable aspects for local elected officials is to be criticized or berated during public speakers’ time at council or board meetings, most officials choose to grin and bear it.
After one critic in Inglewood posted a series of videos using shots from the official City Council video, in which he sharply criticizes Mayor James Butts, the city went to court and filed a lawsuit to block it.
Joseph Teixeira, the defendant, is a regular at council meetings, and he holds nothing back when it comes to sharing criticism.
“You people look out here, and you see a bunch of people you think you can exploit,” Texeira said to council members. “You wouldn’t do that in other cities. You think these people are weak, but they’re not, and as we see tonight, something’s going to be done about the way you’re running the city.”
Referring to himself as Inglewood’s watchdog, Teixeira posted a video as he criticizes Butts and questions whether he was a legal resident of the city at one time.
The city fought back.
Claiming that the City Council videos are copyrighted and alleging that Texeira’s use of them is an infringement of that copyright, the city filed a lawsuit against him, citing damage to the city.
The complaint says that Texeira used clips from seven council meetings in his online attacks, arguing that the videos fall under the copyright protection category of movies and performing arts.
Teixeira’s attorney, meanwhile, charges that the copyright argument is just a cover for trying to intimidate Teixeira from continuing his attacks on Butts.
“We think the lawsuit is an effort to shut him up and to misuse copyright law in order to censor his speech,” defense attorney Dan Laidman said. “Copyright law exists to stimulate creative activity, and this is not what copyright is intended to do. This is trying to suppress a critic. This is trying to silence political speech.”
Other critics, meanwhile, say they are not surprised by what they identify as the city’s heavy-handed response to the videos.
“Mr. Butts, Mayor Butts, has come into this city and has tried to suppress free speech,” resident LeRoy Fisher said. “Butts is a dictator.”
“I believe he is probably the biggest bully that has ever crossed into that chair in the last 45-50 years,” resident Diane Sambrano said.
A national free speech group known as the First Amendment Coalition has jumped into the debate as well, sharing its opinion on the matter. The group’s executive director released a statement, reading:
“How could Inglewood officials and their lawyers possibly have concluded that suing one of their more outspoken critics in hopes of unplugging his unflattering videos was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars? This is America, not Iran. The only reasonable conclusion is that this lawsuit was cooked up to shut up Teixeira.”
Free-speech advocates charge that if cities across California would be allowed to copyright videos of public meetings, it would wreak havoc with public access and transparency in the political process.
A motion to dismiss the city’s lawsuit is expected to be argued later this month.
“It sends a message that if you criticize your government in this way, you’ll have to defend against a lawsuit,” the group said.