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Judge Fred Biery inherits free-speech lawsuit


Following last week's surprise exit by Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez, the Free Speech Coalition's suit to overturn the City's new parade ordinance has been assigned to Judge Fred Biery, who will set a new trial date. That means Monday's court marshalling of free-speech forces is postponed, as is the January 25 vigil.

Rodriguez ruled last February that several provisions in the ordinance are unconstitutional, in part because they gave the City too much discretion in determining fees, which could effectively result in silencing groups with controversial messages by levying heavy expenses for cops and barricades. The City has since rewritten parts of the law and asked the court to lift the injunction, but the Coalition argues that the fees, which can range from two grand to 30K, are still prohibitive. That request, as well as a City motion for summary judgment are still before the bench. Biery could decide to address those, or proceed directly to trial.

Judge Rodriguez recused himself last week, saying that a witness in the suit, Assistant City Attorney Veronica Zertuche is an old childhood friend, and although they don't pal around as adults, he characterized their relationship as "close as cousins" recalled Coalition attorney Amy Kastely. Zertuche was added to the witness list in early January, after the plaintiffs received copies of 2008 parade permits from the City and found that the City Attorney's office had been asked to determine whether two permit applicants were holding First Amendment Processions, which qualify for a discount. According to the documents, Zertuche rendered those opinions.

The Coalition plans to use the extra time to continue educating the community about the issue.

"Our position is that all processions, parades, and marches are First Amendment processions," Kastely said. "The ordinance is really misleading in suggesting any procession isn't covered by the First Amendment."

"What is especially problematic," she added, "is for City officials to be empowered by the ordinance to tell someone their procession is or is not protected by the First Amendment."

You can find the court documents and orders to date here, along with links to join the Coalition, sign a petition, etc. Kastely expects to get a new court date in the next few weeks.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 1/23/2009 3:42:31 PM
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