ACLU of Northern California and Civil Rights Groups Say Proposed Resolution to Punish Peace Protesters is Illegal

April 1, 2003 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO--Saying that a proposed resolution by the City Board of Supervisors would “chill participation in expressive activity at a time when it is most needed,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and other groups today sent a letter condemning the resolution that seeks to recover protest-related expenses from local anti-war organizers.

“Civil disobedience has a long and honorable tradition in American history, including the Boston Tea Party, the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights movement. Disproportionate punishment for civil disobedience threatens to silence all who share dissenting views, by punishing the message,” the groups said in the letter.

The groups said the resolution appears to target the organizers of peace demonstrations that took place in the city on March 20, 21 and 22. The letter to Supervisor Tony Hall, who introduced the resolution on March 25, advised that a lawsuit to recover expenses would constitute a “meritless SLAPP” lawsuit.

A 1992 California law aimed at stopping “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation,” or SLAPP suits, as they are known, shields citizens from being sued for exercising their constitutional right to petition the government. The civil rights groups warned that attempting to recover costs from the protest organizers would not only be unsuccessful but could subject the City to substantial liability.

The letter further reminds Supervisor Hall of the leading legal precedent in such cases. In 1981, utility workers and ratepayers in San Luis Obispo County sued three groups that organized blockades of a nuclear power plant seeking to recover over $2 million. The court dismissed the lawsuit and awarded the defendants $82,500 in legal fees. The state Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling.

The signers of the letter include the California Anti-SLAPP Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, National Lawyers Guild – SF Bay Area Chapter, Western States Legal Foundation, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Bay Area Police Watch, and the ACLU of Northern California.

A copy of the letter is available online at http://www.aclunc.org/police/030401-hall.pdf

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