JZ Knight suffered a procedural setback on Wednesday when a Tacoma judge denied her motion to keep videos in which she makes racist statements under wraps until a larger copyright infringement lawsuit is resolved.
U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle said Knight’s attorneys failed to show there was a substantial likelihood she would prevail on the merits of the case during the regular trial or that she would be irreparably harmed if the videos were not immediately suppressed.
“There isn’t sufficient evidence to persuade this court of either of those things,” he said.
The highlight of the hearing came when Settle ruled the videos could be played in the courtroom — over the vehement objections of Knight’s legal team.
Knight, who claims she can channel a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha and operates the Ramtha School for Enlightenment from a walled compound in Yelm, last week filed suit against the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based conservative think tank, and Freedom Foundation staff member Glen Morgan, along with his wife, an eighth-grade teacher with no other ties to the case.
Morgan first acquired the damaging videos from an anonymous source two years ago. Recorded during an online webcast, the videos show Knight engaged in a series of obscenity-laced rants directed at Catholics, gays, Mexicans and other minority groups.
When the material was made public in 2012, the Washington State Democratic Party repudiated her comments and diverted a $70,000 donation from Knight to another liberal organization.
Several individual candidates, such as Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck and legislative candidate Bruce Lackney—all Democrats—also returned campaign donations from Knight.
The issue cropped up again several weeks ago, when it was discovered that the Thurston County Democratic Party had voted to accept a new $65,000 donation from Knight. When confronted about its decision, the party chair, Roger Erskine, suggested the videos might have been edited — an allegation Romero and others had made when they first surfaced two years ago.
Knight’s lead attorney, Andrea McNeeley, was particularly incensed that Morgan chose to answer that charge by taking the tapes to a Thurston County commissioners meeting, where they were entered into the public record.
“That was nothing but a deliberate attempt to launder them through the public disclosure laws,” she said. “His purpose was to embarrass JZ Knight and embarrass Democrats. But that doesn’t entitle him to take proprietary information and disseminate it.”
McNeeley said the videos were lifted from a copyrighted webcast and every viewer who watched it online signed a nondisclosure agreement that prevented them from sharing the content. She also accused Morgan or the source who forwarded the clips to him of “carefully selecting the most provocative moments of the presentation” to make Knight look foolish.
“JZ Knight offers a complex, integrated, ongoing program that includes a counseling component,” she said. “What she does may be outside most people’s comfort zone, but it is of great value to her many followers.”
Attorney Michelle Earl Hubbard, representing both Morgan and the Freedom Foundation, countered that the entire cache of videotapes includes 17 hours of material.
“Of course it was edited for length,” she said. “But that doesn’t change the nature of what’s on the 42 minutes of video that was released.”
Earl Hubbard said Knight can’t accuse Morgan of doctoring the tapes or showing the scenes out of context and then deny him an opportunity to prove otherwise by suppressing them entirely.
“He used only what was needed,” she said. “That’s the essence of fair use.”
Earl Hubbard refuted claims by the plaintiffs that the videos had been posted online a few weeks, noting that they’d first been posted more than two years ago. She also denied the videos were distributed to “retaliate” against Knight for supporting Democratic candidates and causes.
“The Freedom Foundation is a nonpartisan organization,” she said. “Had a Republican taken money from someone who said what JZ Knight did, it would call on them to explain it, too.”
Settle stressed that Wednesday’s preliminary hearing would only deal with Knight’s request for a temporary restraining order and would not consider the larger questions of copyright infringement and fair use.
He encouraged Knight’s lawyers to pursue a temporary injunction if they still wanted to attempt to suppress the videos; they said they expected to file for one within a week.