A Marin County judge declined to grant an injunction Friday that would have barred the Marin Independent Journal from republishing photographs of a suspected bank robber.

Christopher Jay Wootton's public defender sought the injunction because of the circumstances in which the images were obtained. The photos were shot the day of Wootton's first court appearance on Dec. 19, when he was still using a wheelchair because of injuries from his arrest.

Before the hearing that day, the newspaper filed the standard paperwork asking the judge for permission to take a picture of Wootton in court. Wootton's public defender, Michael Coffino, objected to the courtroom photography. He argued that the photograph could taint witnesses and prospective jurors, thus depriving Wootton of his constitutional right to a fair trial.

Judge James Chou denied the newspaper's request "without prejudice," meaning he was willing to reconsider the issue at a later date.

After the hearing ended, an IJ photographer took pictures of Wootton outside the Civic Center while bailiffs were rolling him back to jail. Although most inmates are escorted between jail and court through interior passageways, the few in wheelchairs must be rolled outside the building briefly so they can be placed on elevators.

The IJ, which often runs photos of suspects between arrest and trial, published several pictures of Wootton. As a member of the Associated Press news cooperative, the newspaper also shared the images with other media organizations.


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Within weeks, Coffino sought an injunction barring the newspaper from republishing the photographs. He argued that the newspaper flouted the intent of the judge's previous order, compromised Wootton's right to a fair trial, and discriminated against a disabled defendant by exploiting the design quirk at the Civic Center.

The newspaper opposed the motion, saying such an injunction would violate its free speech protections under the First Amendment and California law. Robert Sterling, the paper's top editor, called the motion "an outrageous attempt at censorship." Duffy Carolan, the newspaper's lawyer, said Wootton's case did not come close to justifying the rare suppression of an American newspaper.

In a hearing Friday morning, Judge Chou denied the public defender's motion. He said his Dec. 19 order barring photography in his courtroom only applied to the courtroom itself, not the building's exterior. He said the newspaper had obtained the photographs lawfully in a public place.

Wootton, who did not require a wheelchair Friday, returns to court March 6 for further proceedings in his case.

Wootton, a 60-year-old Larkspur resident, is charged with robbing or trying to rob 11 Marin banks over a one-year period and pulling a gun on two policemen before his arrest. He was arrested Dec. 11 after being shot by a sheriff's deputy following a car chase into Terra Linda.

Wootton could face up to life in prison under the three-strikes law because he has prior convictions for kidnapping and residential burglary.

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Contact Gary Klien via email at gklien@marinij.com or https://twitter.com/GaryKlien

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