Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

SF voices support for unsealing Prop 8 trial tapes

Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker oversaw the Prop 8 trial. Photo: Rick Gerharter.

Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker oversaw the Prop 8 trial. Photo: Rick Gerharter.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office filed its support Wednesday (May 31) for unsealing tapes of the Proposition 8 trial.

San Francisco’s KQED public radio and TV station filed a motion in April to unseal the tapes, which have never been broadcast in full.

The trial, which took place in 2010 in San Francisco and is formally known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, ended with U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, now retired, ruling that Prop 8 was unconstitutional. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that the ban’s backers didn’t have standing to defend it. The high court’s decision essentially killed the prohibition, and in 2015, the justices ruled 5-4 that same-sex marriages should be allowed nationwide.

The 2010 proceedings “concerned matters of immense social importance, and the public interest in access to the video recording far outweighs any interest that the proponents of Proposition 8 have in continuing to keep the recording under seal,” the city’s motion says.

It notes that Prop 8’s backers have claimed the tapes should be sealed because they “would be subject to harassment or backlash for their participation in the trail.”

However, the motion says, “they never substantiated these claims with admissible evidence. Instead, they relied on stale hearsay accounts of threats or intimidation that they claim occurred during the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign.”

The filing also says that it was already determined that “the local rule under which the recording was filed under seal provides that a sealing order is not presumptively valid past 10 years. … Accordingly, proponents must offer some compelling justification for the continued confidentiality of the recording today.”

In their motion opposing the effort to unseal the tapes, which was also filed Wednesday, Prop 8 proponents say, “The recording of the trial exists only because of Judge Walker’s solemn commitment that it would not be broadcast, and any order unsealing the recording would undercut that commitment and threaten judicial integrity.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, May 31, 2017 @ 12:52 pm PST
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