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Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit on California executions

San Francisco Chronicle

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit by news organizations seeking to let media and public witnesses view more of the process of executions in California, which could resume soon.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of San Francisco on Friday allows media organizations to proceed with a challenge to the prison system’s decision to allow reporters and witnesses to watch the inmate being put to death, but to block their view of a room at San Quentin where prison staff members prepare the lethal drugs and inject them into tubes that flow into the inmate’s body.

The suit also contests the prison’s plan to pull the curtain if an execution fails, preventing witnesses from seeing medical staff attempt to revive the inmate. The state contends it would be protecting the inmate’s privacy, but Seeborg said a federal appeals court in 2012 questioned a state’s purported concern for the privacy of a prisoner it was killing in the presence of strangers.

The ruling suggests that the right of public access to executions is broader than the state claims it is, said Keker, Van Nest & Peters's Christopher Sun, a lawyer for the San Francisco Progressive Media Center, publisher of the online journal Other plaintiffs are the Los Angeles Times and public broadcaster KQED.

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