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California high court to decide if tenants can distribute leaflets

The Associated Press


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SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court will decide whether tenants can distribute newsletters to other apartment residents over the objections of the building owner.

The justices voted Nov. 23 to review an appeals court's ruling that would have allowed the owner of a San Francisco apartment complex to enforce a ban on leafleting in the building.

The case could redefine free-speech rights on private property in California, a subject the court last addressed 20 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutional guarantee of free speech applies only to public areas and restrictions imposed by the government. But the California court ruled in 1979 in Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center that the state Constitution protects free expression, including leafleting and signature-gathering, in a large private shopping mall, the modern equivalent of a town square. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the California high court's decision.

However, California's 1st District Court of Appeal ruled recently that freedom of expression did not protect members of the Golden Gateway Tenants Association, who put their newsletters on tenant issues under the doors of residents of the Golden Gateway Center.

The court said the apartment complex differed from a shopping mall because apartment managers kept the general public off the property.

Chief Justice Ronald George and Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, Ming Chin and Janice Rogers Brown voted to grant a hearing on an appeal by the tenants' group.

The case is Golden Gateway Center v. Golden Gateway Tenants Association.