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May 19, 2010

The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Legal Director Witold “Vic” Walczak is a legal superstar. In fact, he was acknowledged as such last night by the Thomas Merton Center, where he and seven others were honored for their work protecting the free speech rights of protestors during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last year.

At last night’s event at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Vic also gave attendees a preview of some forthcoming litigation involving the actions of Pittsburgh police during the “Oakland sweeps,” which occurred the night the summit closed. During the sweeps, police tear gassed and fired rubber bullets into a crowd of hundreds of protestors, students and passersby. The lawsuit will focus on some of the more than 80 arrestees from that night — some were arrested without probable cause, others were arrested in violation of their First Amendment rights.

Vic blogged about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s work on behalf of G20 protestors last year. Writing in “Giving the First Amendment a Beating at the G20”:

Pittsburgh’s use of harassment, intimidation, trickery, and indiscriminate arrests against demonstrators was fairly typical of the recent handling of other large important gatherings at the hands of various groups of law enforcement officials. At times when the imperative to allow freedom of speech and assembly is greatest – when national and international leaders convene — we impose martial law. Surely a more balanced model that provides security and respects civil liberties is possible.

Aside from this forthcoming case, Vic’s other greatest hits include his challenge to the intelligent design curriculum in public schools, fighting the anti-immigrant ordinance in Hazelton, and the sexting case against former Wyoming County district attorney George Skumanick.

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