AP, Dec. 3, 2002
By LINDA DEUTSCH
PASADENA – Three decades after California courts first confronted the issue of Hare Krishna devotees soliciting money in airports, the sect was in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where a judge suggested Monday they had come to the wrong place.
The point of law that was to have been argued was whether Los Angeles International Airport is a “public forum” under the Constitution, open to all who wish to propound their ideas.
Krishna members have long maintained they have a right to distribute literature and solicit donations at public forums which are places for free discussion. They have been involved in litigation on related matters since 1974, according to lawyer “>Barry Fisher, who was one of those appearing before the court.
Fisher’s colleague, David M. Lieberman, tried to argue the public forum question but was sidetracked by Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, who suggested the case belongs in the California Supreme Court, not before a federal court.
“Why are we getting into this murky area of state law?” asked Kozinski. “… Why isn’t this case being brought in state court?”
Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw noted that an injunction currently in place allows the Hare Krishnas to distribute literature and make solicitations at the airport. She suggested the injunction remain in place and the case be “certified” to the California Supreme Court for review.
“What harm would there be if we ask the state court to determine this case?” asked Kozinski.
“The harm is we want to get this case resolved,” said Lieberman. “It’s been pending for five years.”
Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Claudia McGee-Henry supported moving the case out of federal jurisdiction.
“We think a novel California issue should be addressed by the California Supreme Court,” she said.
The city’s attorney also argued that Los Angeles International (LAX) is not a public forum, that in a time of terrorist fears the airport is more restricted than ever to travelers.
She ridiculed “the notion that LAX is opening its arms to all.”
“Parking is $30 a day. It’s 18 miles from downtown and services are offered only for the traveling public,” Henry said. “LAX is not opening its arms to those who want to come and visit.”
The 9th Circuit’s decision on the case will be made at a later date.