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Judge Orders L.A. Times to Delete Info on Glendale Detective’s Ties to Mexican and Armenian Mafia ~ Unconstitutional? [Updated]

1:41 PM PDT on July 16, 2018

    Glendale News-Press

    [dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] Glendale police detective won a ruling Saturday against the Los Angeles Times to have details of his ties to the Mexican Mafia and Armenian criminals removed from an already published article on the publication’s website.

    The case is a fresh test for press freedom in Los Angeles and the L.A. Times said it would appeal the unusual weekend decision on First Amendment grounds.

    [UPDATE: Since this story was published on Monday afternoon, the federal judge vacated his own order Tuesday morning, several days after his ruling caused a stir among First Amendment advocates.]

    A federal judge granted Glendale detective John Saro Balian’s request for a temporary restraining order after the Times ran a story in one of its zoned community newspapers, The Glendale News-Press, detailing his July 12 guilty plea, where he admitted to “lying to federal investigators about his links to organized crime, accepting a bribe and obstructing justice by tipping off a top criminal target about an upcoming federal raid.”

    The plea deal was mistakenly made public by the court’s own public database, details of which were supposed to be filed as sealed. Reporter Alene Tchekmedyian saw the mistakenly published report Friday and included it in her story on Balian’s arrest and plea Saturday morning.

    U.S. District Judge John F. Walter ruled in favor of Balian’s request and the Times removed information from the sealed document from the article.

    RELATED: Pasadena Quietly Settles with Family OF Man Killed by Police in 2016

    The Times called the the ruling “unusual” and “unconstitutional” and said it plans to appeal the judge's order, according to a statement by Times executive editor Norman Pearlstine. "The judge's order clearly violates the 1st Amendment,” Pearlstine said in a statement. “We expect that the judge's order will be vacated on appeal, and we will publish the information."

    The Times was able to use information from a Department of Homeland Security affidavit to detail some of the alleged crimes committed by detective Balian, including tipping of a Frogtown gang member of an arrest warrant, bridging ties between the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime, tipping off the Mexican Mafia of marijuana grow houses so they could extort them, and offering to pay them to intimidate a Commerce man.

    While Balian is in custody awaiting sentencing, he is on unpaid leave with the Glendale Police Department, the Times reported. Their story detailed some of the allegations against him:

    In one case, the informant described, Balian allegedly offered a tip about a gang sweep, allowing a top target — a Frogtown gang member — in a federal racketeering case to flee before agents arrived.

    “Tell your boy Bouncer that he’s the No. 1 on the list for tomorrow,” Balian allegedly warned, according to the affidavit. It took agents another month to arrest the target.

    The informant also alleged that Balian gave him locations of marijuana grow and drug stash houses — information he was privy to as an officer — and told him to “hit them” before law enforcement could execute their search warrants, according to the affidavit.

    In a statement to the Times, Glendale Police Chief Carl Povilaitis said the department is taking “swift and appropriate action” and noted that a felony conviction disqualifies someone from being a police officer in California.

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