Sheila Pell 9:29 a.m., April 23
Jurors selected, trial begins in case of anti-bank protester
First witness called but testimony cut short due to timing.
The trial in the case of the man who wrote protest slogans in children's washable chalk on a public sidewalk outside of three Bank of America branches has begun. The case has started more than one year after Olson made the initial temporary tag.
Attorneys for both sides made their opening arguments.
But before they did Judge Howard Shore instructed them on their duty and expected behavior as jurors.
"We live in an age of incredible technology and we have become an extremely impatient society," Shore told jurors about the need to stay away from online media reports. "I have no idea what's coming. I do need to tell you to not read any media accounts...Half the time the media gets it wrong anyways."
After Shore's instructions, Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard gave her opening arguments to the twelve jurors.
"This case is simply about playing by the rules. The vandalism in this case occurred over a five-month span at three bank branches. The size of these markings varied from the width of an ATM to the length of six parking lots, sometimes even blanketing the entire sidewalk."
Hazard explained the impact that the markings had on bank staff as well as the frustration that Bank of America's Vice President of Security had towards Olson after their initial meeting (read about that here).
Then attorney Tom Tosdal spoke for Olson, continuing to point fingers at City Attorney Jan Goldsmith for wasting City and court resources at the expense of the First Amendment. "This is government overreaching to the extreme," said Tosdal. "Let me say that this is not the 'People against Mr. Olson'. This is the City Attorney against Mr. Olson...wrote protest messages on a public sidewalk. He did it in plain view with cameras pointing directly at him. He did it to inform the public. He did it in an open and proud manner."
Hazard then called the City's first witness, an assistant manager at the North Park branch. The testimony, however, was postponed until tomorrow morning's session.
While that was happening the City Attorney's Office appeared to be doing some clean-up of its own after national media outlets were turned on to the story. The office issued a statement to the press and as a response to those writing in with objections about the case.
"This is a graffiti case where the defendant is alleged to have engaged in the conduct on 13 different occasions. The trial judge has already held that, under California law, it is still graffiti even if the material can be removed with water. Most graffiti can be removed. Also, the judge and a different pre-trial judge held that the First Amendment is not a defense to vandalism/graffiti," read the statement.
"The defense is trying to make this case into a political statement, which it is not. This is just one of some 20,000 criminal cases that are referred to us annually by the police department. We have prosecutors who decide whether to issue cases. They are professionals. The City Attorney was not involved in deciding whether to issue this case as is typical practice in prosecution offices for most cases. He hadn't heard of this case until it was in the media."
The trial will resume tomorrow at 9am at the downtown courthouse.
Olson will be featured in a July 4 Cover Story in the Reader. Previous statements from the City Attorney and the Mayor will be included.