3 p.m., Oct. 18
Chalking the plank: Judge won't allow bank protester to claim first amendment rights
Arguments are set to begin tomorrow morning.
The First Amendment has no place in Superior Court Judge Howard M. Shore's courtroom, not when it comes to vandalism with water soluble chalk.
Today the trial began in the case of a San Diego man who is being charged with 13 counts of vandalism for writing anti-big-bank slogans with washable children's chalk on a sidewalk outside of three Bank of America branches in Mid-City.
On one side sat Jeff Olson, the 40-year-old political activist who protested against the bailout of the big banks early last year. On the other side was Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard and law student and city attorney employee William Tanoury. Also accompanying Hazard were two other representatives from the City Attorney's side.
For Olson, and any free-speech advocates and political activists, the day couldn't have gone much worse.
Judge Shore granted Hazard's motion to prohibit Olson's attorney Tom Tosdal from mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.
"The State's Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights," ruled Judge Shore.
The trial, stated the judge, should only focus on whether or not Olson is guilty of vandalism and not what his motivations behind the vandalism were. Shore cited the case, Mackinney v. Nielsen 69 F.3d 1002 (9th Cir.1995), where a man was acquitted after a court ruled that use of chalk was not considered vandalism. The law was later changed to define vandalism as defacement "with graffiti or other inscribed material."
After the ruling, during recess, Olson exited the court breathing deep breaths.
"Oh my gosh," he said. "I can't believe this is happening."
Tosdal exited the court room shortly after. "I've never heard that before, that a court can prohibit an argument of first amendment rights"
Arguments are set to be heard tomorrow morning, after the jury is selected.