Today's management seems hell-bent on proving the theatre is managed by a bunch of Cro-Magnons. The Carpi has cancelled a showing of Atticus v. The Architect: The Political Assassination of Don Siegelman, a documentary about the prosecution of Alabama's former Democratic governor.
The film already has been shown in Birmingham and Atlanta, and a screening was set for July 8 in Montgomery. But that has been scrapped because, says theatre director Martin McCaffrey, the film portrays former U.S. attorney Leura Canary -- prosecutor on the Siegelman case -- in a "false and defamatory manner." Why is that a sensitive issue? Because Canary serves on the Capri's board of directors.
Now, that is insular and tribal thinking of the highest order -- and it suggests Alabama has gone backward, not forward, over the past 25 years or so.
How stupid is the Capri's action -- and McCaffrey's statement? Let us count the ways:
(1) Neither McCaffrey, nor any of the other board members, has a way of knowing whether the documentary, directed by Steve Wimberly, presents false information about Canary. If the film allegedly made false assertions directly about McCaffrey, or any other individual on the board, the directors might have an ethical leg upon which to stand. But Canary likely is the only member of the board who has first-hand knowledge about issues in the film, and the board apparently is blindly taking her word for things -- even though prosecutorial misconduct in the case has been widely reported in multiple news outlets. This is another case of white privilege and entitlement in Alabama. If Leura Canary claims a film's content is false -- even though she previously has made no such public showing -- then movie-goers in central Alabama are not entitled to watch the film and make up their own minds.
(2) "Defamatory" is a court term, with a specific legal meaning -- and McCaffrey likely has no idea what that is. By law, a defamation claim must be determined at trial, before a jury. It's not an issue that one person, not even a judge, can determine. That's because it involves First Amendment issues that have been treasured in this country for more than 200 years. The law holds that a judge cannot be a one-man censor in a definition case. But Martin McCaffrey seems to think he and his board can be one-man censors of the Siegelman documentary.
(3) By any definition, Leura Canary is a public figure. That means the bar for defamatory content is extremely high when applied to her. New York Times v. Sullivan sets the standard for a public figure -- information must be published with "actual malice" (actual knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth) in order to be defamatory. Translation: McCaffrey and his board have no clue what they are talking about.
(4) If Canary's actions in the Siegelman case were so noble, why has the U.S. Department of Justice been stonewalling for almost 11 years on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents about her actions. In fact, a case now is pending in federal court -- Joseph Siegelman v. U.S. Department of Justice -- and public records suggest documents were turned over for review to U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala roughly three months ago, and we've still seen no sign of the documents being made public. Is Canary living in utter fear that the documents soon will become public, and that's why she's trying to hijack the Capri Theatre and its audience? Seems pretty darned likely to me.
Powerful evidence suggests Leura Canary was, in fact, part of a conspiracy to unlawfully prosecute Don Siegelman, so that Republican Bob Riley could become, and then remain, governor. From Josh Moon, of Alabama Political Reporter:
Canary was a federal prosecutor during Siegelman’s prosecution and ultimate conviction. Canary’s husband, Billy, was a powerful player in the state’s Republican Party and served as an advisor to eventual Gov. Bob Riley.
Leura Canary said she recused from the case against Siegelman, but there have long been allegations by Siegelman’s camp that she remained active throughout. A number of emails and other items – all detailed in the film – were discovered following Siegelman’s conviction.
I try to make limited use of terms like "outrage" here at Legal Schnauzer. But the Capri's actions are an outrage. Alabama citizens, from the Montgomery area and beyond, should protest the Capri until the Siegelman film is put back on the schedule. In the alternative, they should boycott the Capri until it goes out of business.
Don Siegelman himself said it well in a public statement:
The truth should trump the prosecutor's embarrassment at being exposed on the big screen for her wrongdoing.
The former governor nailed it -- and perhaps we are seeing signs that the Capri has outlived its usefulness. An "independent theatre," which is captive to the whims of a corrupt board member, perhaps is not worth having.