The First Amendment is alive and well in San Diego, however, not without the help of attorneys and the courts.
On Tuesday, December 10, the city council is expected to approve a $60,000 payout to settle the civil rights case filed by Occupy San Diego's most prominent leader, Ray Lutz.
Lutz was arrested on November 29, 2011, for trespassing at the San Diego Civic Center during an Occupy San Diego event. After his arrest, Lutz filed a federal complaint against the city. After more than two years and several court hearings, the City Attorney's Office has called for a truce.
The settlement is a big step for city attorney Jan Goldsmith, who has a reputation for bringing the hammer down on protesters.
In July of this year, Goldsmith proceeded with the costly and ultimately humiliating defeat (first reported by the Reader) in the case of North Park resident Jeff Olson. Olson was charged with writing anti-Bank of America messages in water-soluble chalk on the public sidewalk outside a bank branch.
Goldsmith denied knowing about the case despite his office being contacted by this reporter nearly one month before the story broke.
Olson's prosecution was no surprise for attorneys in San Diego, especially those representing Occupy San Diego participants. Attorney Jeremy Warren represented a young occupier who was arrested and later prosecuted for also writing in water-soluble chalk on public property. Before the trial began, Warren was told that Goldsmith was involved in many of the protest cases.
"The city attorney charged her with misdemeanor vandalism under the city’s municipal code," Warren told the Reader in a June 28 statement. "In trying to get them to dismiss the case, I was told in no uncertain terms that negotiations would be challenging because City Attorney Goldsmith was personally involved in the Occupy cases."
Eventually the City Attorney's Office acquiesced and later dropped all charges after the young woman protester indicated that she was willing to take her case to trial.
The $60,000 payout to settle the case with Lutz isn't the only First Amendment case that the city attorney has lost in the past few weeks.
On December 2, appellate court judges overturned the conviction of Liz Jacobelly for trespassing while participating in what was deemed a peaceful protest against the mistreatment of animals involved with the Ringling Bros. circus.
Arrest records show that Jacobelly was arrested on the evening of August 26, 2012, for holding a sign while speaking out against the treatment of the circus animals near the front door of the Valley View Casino Center. The arrest later led to a trial where Jacobelly was convicted of criminal trespass and ordered to fulfill 24 hours of community service.
Appellate court judges later disagreed with the ruling. "[T]he evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain a conviction under Municipal Code 52.8001. Specifically, the evidence showed that the appellant was engaged in peaceful picketing," reads the order obtained by the Reader.
The city council is expected to approve the settlement in the case of Ray Lutz during tomorrow's city-council hearing.