Objecting to the presence of Times reporters, the top manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum refused to answer questions Wednesday and walked out of a deposition in an open-government lawsuit against the stadium's overseers.
Interim General Manager John Sandbrook left the deposition in the suit brought by The Times and a 1st Amendment group. The Times would not agree to his lawyer's demands that it exclude the two reporters or prohibit them from publishing Sandbrook's sworn answers before they are introduced as evidence in a trial.
The suit accuses the governing commission of the taxpayer-owned Coliseum of illegally withholding records from the public and violating state law by conducting months of secret deliberations on a stadium lease with USC. The commission denies the allegations.
Sandbrook's attorney, Deborah Fox, said she was suspending the videotaped deposition so she could ask Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin to issue an order banning the reporters from the session. She said their presence was "an attempt to intimidate and harass and annoy" as Sandbrook answered an attorney's questions under oath. Under the deposition rules, the reporters were not allowed to pose questions.
"They should not be able to report on issues that unfold here in this deposition," Fox said.
Times attorney Jeff Glasser, who was to question Sandbrook, said the reporters were entitled to attend the proceeding, held at a downtown law office, and the courts have allowed journalists to observe depositions even if they were not involved in the case at hand. He said any effort to prevent The Times' reporters from publishing material from the Sandbrook deposition would be unconstitutional.
"We are absolutely, 100%, not going to agree to gag our reporters," Glasser said. "This case is all about government transparency."