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By Brian Park

Newspapers are coming back to City Hall and the Community Center, following an agreement between the city of San Juan Capistrano and a local newspaper that filed a lawsuit over the removal of news racks.

Attorneys for the city and Community Common Sense, publishers of a monthly newspaper often critical of city policies, met in court for the second time on Thursday, December 19 to negotiate a deal.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James Di Cesare told both sides to come up with an agreement for the temporary placement of news racks, or he would make the decision for them.

Following about 45 minutes of talks inside a jury room, Di Cesare signed an order detailing where news racks will be placed.

At City Hall, the city agreed to remove a trash receptacle located to the right of the entrance to make way for news racks. At the Community Center, space will be made available for news racks to the right of the entrance, as well. Also, the order allows Common Sense to place 10 copies of their paper in the Community Center’s senior reading room.

“In walking into the room, there really was no disagreement as to the location of the news racks,” said Phillip Kohn, an attorney for the city from Rutan & Tucker.

In November, Common Sense filed a lawsuit against the city, City Attorney Hans Van Ligten and the council majority of Mayor Sam Allevato and councilmen Larry Kramer and John Taylor over the trio’s closed session vote to remove news racks in August.

The lawsuit accused the parties of violating the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and states the city’s decision came only after they placed their own papers at the two locations, despite two other papers, The Capistrano Dispatch and the Capistrano Valley News, having racks there for at least a decade.

The court order follows the City Council’s closed session vote on Tuesday, December 17 to temporarily bring news racks back, although representatives for Common Sense said the city’s proposal fell short of their expectations.

The two sides are due back in court February 27 to consider continuing the order. Both felt they emerged victorious.

“Needless to say, I’m satisfied. The order simply puts into writing what the council was prepared to do,” Kohn said.

Meanwhile, Wayne Tate, attorney for Common Sense, said his clients received a favorable decision not only for themselves, but for other newspapers as well.

“I think my client prevailed and more importantly, freedom of speech and the freedom of the press prevailed,” Tate said.

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