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Monday, November 20, 2006

Buzayan Lawsuit Goes Forward Against Davis Enterprise

Last week a US Federal Court Judge allowed the Buzayan lawsuit to proceed against the Davis Police Department, the Yolo County District Attorney's Office and the Davis Enterprise. The defense was denied a motion for summary judgment. Moreover, the Judge allowed the Buzayan family to sue the Davis Enterprise and the Yolo County District Attorney's office for the unauthorized release of tapes of the Buzayan family which caused the improper online broadcast of the private and confidential information about the Buzayan family including their home address, unlisted phone number, names, ages and birthdates of the families' minor children (unrelated completely to the case), and the driver's license number and social security numbers of several of the people involved.

There were several remarkable things about this release of information about the Buzayan misdemeanor hit and run case involving a 16 year old minor at the time. First of all, the DA's office took it upon themselves to release the information without court clearance--in fact the judge had specifically told them not to do so. Second, the Davis Enterprise was apprised of the personal nature of the information and refused to pull it off their website. In fact, it is still available from their front page even today.

A book could be written about various portions of this case.

A few highlights of what will come up. First, a statement by the Deputy District Attorney in charge of this case that the reason that this case was brought to trial, was that the family was planning tp sue the Davis Police Department. This was said in front of Judge Warriner, who was reportedly so surprised he asked the DA to repeat herself, which she did… verbatim.

Second, the paper, the Yolo County District Attorney's Office and Officer Ly all mischaracterized the nature of the complaints made by the Buzayan family. They were not complaining about Ly's demeanor during his interactions--rather they were complaining about multiple violations of federal, state, and local laws.

Third, the news accounts reported a series of statements and misleading summaries of the tape recording in the paper. Those individuals, who relied on the newspaper's account of the description of the tapes, would have been misled as to their contents. Moreover, the plaintiffs allege that there was a selective release of the tapes. For instance, we do not hear the interaction between the Internal Affairs Sgt. Gina Anderson and Halema Buzayan. On the Internal Affairs tape you can hear Sgt. Gina Anderson threaten Halema to confess or her mother would go to prison.

Fourth, a member of the Yolo County District Attorney's Office on the Yolosoapbox accused the Buzayan family of paying off the victim in order to get her to drop her charges.

Finally, Ly on his website makes the stunning challenge to the Buzayans to take a polygraph.

All of these are additional points peripheral to the original arrest.

For those somewhat unfamiliar with this case, I recommend the KGO news reports which are quite good. If you use MSN Internet Explorer, you can view a series of videos of the newscast which provide good details of the case.

Most of this will be sorted out during the course of the trial. Now it will be interesting as to how the Davis Enterprise chooses to report on the lawsuit--and if they do. The Davis Enterprise itself is a defendant, as is Debbie Davis the assistant publisher/editor as well as Lauren Keene the reporter who covered the lawsuit. You can foresee the possibility of some sort of conflict of interest in attempting to report on a story which you are a party to and report on a case to which you are a defendant in. How will the Enterprise attempt to bridge this gap or will they not report it all.

Newspapers obviously have a great deal of legal protection against such cases and this will be interesting to see how this proceeds. Obviously the key point will be less that they published this stuff and more that they left it up on the server now for a full six months after publication.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting