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Court upholds injunction against patdowns at Bucs games

Gordon Johnston and the ACLU challenged patdowns’ legality under the Fourth Amendment.

Gordon Johnston and the ACLU challenged patdowns’ legality under the Fourth Amendment.

TAMPA — A Hillsborough County civics teacher has won another round to block patdowns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games.

A judge for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a motion by Gordon Johnston's attorneys to prevent the patdowns from starting, while they consider appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Johnston challenged the constitutionality of the patdowns, which were mandated by the National Football League at the start of the 2005 season to guard against terrorism. Soon after, Johnston joined the American Civil Liberties Union in filing a lawsuit that said the patdowns violated the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures.

"These searches still violate the Constitution, and as long as they aren't happening, that's a good thing," said Rebecca Steele, one of Johnston's attorneys and regional director for the ACLU.

A state court judge ordered an injunction halting the searches in November 2005.

In June 2007, a three-judge panel of the U.S. appeals court ruled against Johnston, saying that he forfeited his right to challenge the patdowns outside Raymond James Stadium when he consented to them.

"Johnston knew that he would be subjected to a patdown search … if he presented himself at an entrance to the stadium to be admitted to a Buccaneers game," the three-judge panel opinion said. "That is, he chose to submit voluntarily to the search, stating only a verbal objection."

The ruling this month that maintains the injunction against patdowns was made by a judge who did not sit on the three-judge panel that issued the June 2007 opinion. An attorney for the Tampa Sports Authority, a public agency that operates Raymond James Stadium, has asked the three-judge panel to reconsider the latest order.

"We're doing everything we can to hopefully expedite the implementation of the 11th Circuit's ruling, which was that the injunction should not have been issued," said Sports Authority attorney Richard Zabak. "We hope to hear from the court fairly soon."

Zabak said that statistically, having the Supreme Court review a case is "a difficult thing to do." In any event, he said, he doesn't believe the patdowns should be halted while the appeal effort is going on.

Kevin Graham can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Court upholds injunction against patdowns at Bucs games 09/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 8:29pm]
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