Tag: free speech

Pussy Riot, Masks, and Free Speech

By Mike Brancheau

In the spring of this year, three members of the Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with hooliganism following a staged anti-Putin performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The band’s protest was aimed at the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for Vladimir Putin and was noteworthy for its excess of Russian expletives and the colorful balaclavas that covered the band members’ faces.

In August, the Pussy Riot members were sentenced to “two years deprivation of liberty in a penal colony” by a Russian judge. The harsh sentence was met with passionate international criticism for infringing on freedom of expression and sparked protests around the world.

One such protest took place on August 17 in New York City. To show their support for the members of Pussy Riot, a large crowd of demonstrators gathered outside of the Russian Consulate, many wearing the by then iconic balaclavas.

It’s the balaclavas that got them in trouble.

Three female protestors were arrested and charged with violating certain provisions of New York’s loitering statute, which makes it unlawful for three or more people wearing masks to gather in public for a demonstration or protest.

On November 21, The New York Times reported on the defendants’ upcoming challenge to New York’s anti-mask law. The article explained that the defendants are asking for the charges to be dismissed because the statute is unconstitutional under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and is a violation of the free speech provision of the New York State Constitution.

The reporter noted that this was not the first time the anti-mask law was debated in court and discussed two prior legal challenges. Missing, though, was an analysis of how these cases might affect the fate of the New York Pussy Riot Protestors. Missing until now…



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It’s Not Jury Tampering, it’s Just Free Speech

By LASIS Staff

Eighty year old retired chemistry professor Julien Heicklin is happy that the charges against him for jury tampering in Manhattan were dismissed, though you might not know it from his master of understatement-esque reaction: “This is better than having them throw me in jail.”

According to federal judge Judge Kimba Wood, Mr. Heicklin is off the hook because he was trying to influence all jurors, for any and all cases, and not specific jurors for a specific case.  For that reason, Judge Wood didn’t even have to wrestle with thorny first amendment issues.

Back in March, 2011, LASIS did.

And though she threw out the charges on other grounds, Judge Wood’s decision is the win for free speech we predicted.


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Actually, Chalk it Up to Free Speech

By LASIS Staff

In January, LASIS reporter Russell Smith wrote that Occupy activist Timothy Osmar would not prevail on a first amendment claim that he had a right to scrawl chalk messages outside of a City Hall in Orlando, Florida. While Mr. Osmar’s 18-days behind bars was absurd, Mr. Smith wrote, the City had acted in accordance with the law.

Well, Mr. Osmar sued the City anyway, alleging that his arrest was unlawful and in violation of his freedom of speech. And guess what — he won.

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge David A. Baker ruled that Mr. Osmar’s actions were clearly protected by the first amendment. The decision means that the City will be required to compensate Mr. Osmar for both his wrongful imprisonment and attorneys’ fees.

Mr. Smith’s article expressed doubt that Mr. Osmar would be able to prove that the City selectively enforced the ordinance prohibiting “writing advertising matter of sidewalks” based on political nature of his message. To do so, we explained, Mr. Osmar would need evidence that the City had not come down when chalking other, non political, messages on the plaza outside City Hall. Fat chance of that evidence existing, we thought.

But as it turned out, such evidence exists, and it shows that for several years the City had blessed a Rotary Club’s chalk-art festival on the same plaza outside City Hall. Judge Baker seized on this point in his decision, concluding that “the city may not selectively interpret and enforce the ordinance based on its own desire to further the causes of particular favored speakers.”

At the start of the case, the City hired the Orlando law firm Akerman Senterfitt & Eidson – at least in part because of the firm’s appellate expertise and this case’s likelihood for appeals. But since the firm charges upwards of $625 an hour for its services, perhaps the City would be wise to read the writing on the –er – sidewalk, and just let things be.

In any case, this is the first time LASIS made an incorrect prediction. And we like Judge Baker’s ruling. We hope the decision stands.




Don’t Chalk it Up to Free Speech

By Russell Smith

Timothy Osmar, an Occupy Orlando demonstrator, was arrested on December 15 for writing, “The revolution will not be televised,” in chalk on the sidewalk outside of City Hall in Orlando. The Orlando police claim they asked Mr. Osmar to stop “defacing” the sidewalk and even checked with the department’s legal advisor before arresting him for violating a city ordinance.

After posting bail, Mr. Osmar, undeterred, returned to the scene of the “crime” on December 22, chalking, “All I want for Christmas is a revolution.” Mr. Osmar was arrested again (video); this time the judge was annoyed with the unrepentant scribbler and refused to set a bail amount. Mr. Osmar sat in jail for 18 days before retaining attorney Dick Wilson, a former chairman of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, to represent him.

Whether or not as a result of Mr. Osmar’s new representation, I can’t say, but the Orlando prosecutors then decided not to pursue the case, dismissing both charges and stating that the time Mr. Osmar had already served in jail was an “appropriate punishment.” (Indeed, some might say 18 days was a disproportionate punishment.)

In any case, the prosecutors probably felt confident that they wouldn’t be seeing Mr. Omar’s thoughts on the sidewalks of Orlando again.  They were wrong.

Mere hours after his release, Mr. Osmar wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks outside the courthouse, and then more outside City Hall. “I am ready and willing, after a bit of a breather, to do it all again,” Mr. Osmar said. “I would really look forward to challenging this in court, to striking the ordinance so people can express themselves with chalk on the sidewalk.”

Mr. Wilson, advocating for his determined client, told the Orlando Sentinel that Mr. Osmar’s arrests were a clear violation of his First Amendment rights, and the newspaper left it at that. LASIS investigated.   (more…)



Supreme Court Ditches Doninger Case

By LASIS Staff

Back in 2009, when LASIS was not even a “live” website, Matt Catania wrote about Avery Doninger, the teen who wrote some nasty things about her teacher outside of school , got in trouble for it inside of school, and sued.

Yesterday, Above the Law reported that Ms. Doninger’s lawsuit went all the way up to the Supreme Court justices, who refused to hear her case.

We agree with ATL that the Supremes made the right decision. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t sympathetic to Ms. Doninger. Read our our original piece here.


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