I was volunteering in the organizing of the Occupy Orange County movement that is planning an occupation of Santa Ana on the 22nd. And on the 12th I was in on the meeting of an organizer and the higher ups of the Santa Ana police department and a city attorney. Several issues came up that as a lawyer I found interesting.
First when the organizer pointed out that almost every city where an occupy wallstreet protest had occurred there was a no camping ordinance but the police had not arrested or handed out citations for violating the ordinance, and that the mayor of Los Angeles had made special accommodations as had the city officials of Irvine. The city officials of Santa Ana said they could not make any accommodations nor could they refrain from prosecuting.
I immediately pointed out that I had never heard of any prosecutor who had ever gotten in trouble for exercising discretion in choosing not to prosecute.
She, the city attorney, said that was true but it would open the city up to law suits since they had energetically enforced the no camping code against the homeless. I pointed out there is a difference between being homeless and exercising free speech.
So that’s the first issue, was this bluster or did the city attorney truly believe it would make them vulnerable to litigation on behalf of the homeless and other constituencies.
The second issue is can a city prohibit this type of protest with a blanket camping permit. If you take the idea that an overnight protest is a valid type of speech, can it be banned across the board without providing an alternative venue. I would say that it can’t.
They have also prohibited the use of megaphones and all camping equipment, even if it was not used overnight. Very interested in any advice or thoughts on this matter from more experienced lawyers, as I am only four months on from being admitted to the bar.
Doug Ecks, Esq. 415 793 9522