It has been a long road, but thanks to free speech attorney Jon Meyer and judge John C Kissinger of the Cheshire superior court, Keene’s Robin Hooders are again victorious! Nearly two years ago, the same court dismissed the two cases brought against the charitable meter-feeders, alleging we were “threatening, intimidating, and harassing” their parking enforcement officers and demanding a 50ft floating, constitution-free buffer zone to protect them.
The city appealed to the NH supreme court which ultimately upheld the superior court’s dismissal except for one part. They affirmed the lower court’s ruling to dismiss based on free speech grounds, but said the superior court needed to look at the request for the “buffer zone” injunction separately from the allegations of “tortious interference”, “civil conspiracy”, “negligence”, and the demand for financial compensation, all of which the city failed to prove to the court’s satisfaction.
The city, which had originally wanted a 50 foot floating buffer zone around each enforcer that would prevent all speech and recording by the Robin Hooders, had whittled that down over the 2.5 years this has been in court to a 5-10ft zone that would only be temporary and only if the parking enforcer requested said distance from the Robin Hooder. Mind you, we generally do not wish to be so close to them – it’s best to fill meters at a greater distance, so as to have enough time to fill the meter and leave the Robin Hood calling card on the windshield, BEFORE the parking enforcer catches up to us and gets ahead. That would mean she could successfully write a ticket if she gets ahead, so having distance is my goal, but the enforcer is constantly trying to close that gap, so sometimes we do get within ten feet. That would mean that such an injunction (besides being unconstitutional) would also prevent us from Robin Hooding, as anytime the enforcer managed to close the gap, we’d be subject to arrest for “contempt of court”.
The Court cannot conceive of any more narrow or alternative relief that would provide any meaningful protection to the PEOs without running afoul of the Respondents’ First Amendment rights…the government interests here are not sufficient to warrant an infringement on the Respondents’ First Amendment rights. Any injunction requiring a buffer zone of any meaningful distance would require a significant change in the method used by the Respondents to disseminate their protected speech.
So, despite the city’s interests in their parking enforcement continuing unabated, their significantly-reduced proposal for injunction is still beyond what is constitutionally permissible, and further, the court could not think of any lesser restrictions that would pass constitutional muster.
Kissinger, in his conclusion, does remind the city that if Robin Hooders’ conduct is rising to the level of violating criminal statutes, that they can bring such charges. Of course, the reason they never have brought criminal harassment or assault charges is because Robin Hooders are peaceful. There is zero evidence of “harassment, threatening, or intimidating” – the claims the city has long libeled us with throughout this lawsuit.
The poor, innocent parking enforcers.
In a classic case of projection, the people in this who are actually harassing, threatening, and intimidating others are the parking enforcers. They harass, threaten, and intimidate the good motorists of Keene six days a week by giving them threatening tickets for just trying to do some business downtown. Those tickets threaten, intimidate, and harass their victims into paying their fines so as to avoid the threat of having their car stolen. Talk about intimidation! This is why Robin Hood of Keene exists – we are here to save people from having to deal with the city’s threats. That’s always been the primary motivation, at least for me. I certainly don’t speak for everyone.
If the parking enforcers don’t like being called out for their threatening, intimidating, and harassing behavior, they should get jobs in the productive economy. Until the city council ends the parking department and turns over the spaces to downtown businesses to decide how to administer, per market forces, Robin Hooding will continue to rescue peaceful motorists from the threats of the city government.
The city has 30 days to appeal this latest failure. Stay tuned here to Free Keene for the latest.
First up, heroic pro-bono free speech attorney Jon Meyer filed this 12-page legal memorandum. Meyer points out that the city’s demand for an injunction against the Robin Hooders would clearly be unconstitutional as it’s directed at specific people and speech. He cites various case law for the court to review, and points out the obvious discrimination and hypocrisy:
If the Defendants had been engaging in demonstrations for the purpose of expressing their support of PEO’s, or were making comments supportive of their job performance, this proceeding would never have been initiated. The videos and other testimony show that other private citizens have emphatically expressed their support for the PEO’s, and their opposition to the Robin Hooders, in some cases physically. No injunction is sought against any of them because they do not convey the Robin Hood message.
Meyer further invalidates the claims of the city that somehow Robin Hooding is a breach of the peace, as claimed by the city’s suit:
James Cleaveland, Attorney Jon Meyer, Ian Freeman
There is a criminal statute, RSA 644, which addresses and prohibits virtually every type of breach of peace. The fact that no breach of peace, disorderly conduct, or assault prosecution has been brought against any of the Robin Hood Defendants for Robin Hooding is compelling evidence that this asserted interest is not significantly implicated by their activities.
The only episodes in the record that amounted to anything approaching a disturbance of the peace were several incidents in which Robin Hooders were physically assaulted by third parties. Several instances over several years of hundreds if not thousands of Robin Hooding demonstrations hardly amounts to a substantial problem. 2 And even if it were substantial, it would violate the First Amendment to restrict the Defendants’ expression activity because of illegal assaults against them by third parties. This is a classic example of a “heckler’s veto” which is antithetical to the First Amendment because it puts speech, particularly unpopular speech at risk, and, in effect, rewards mob or individual violence.
Meyer points out that just because the parking enforcers may be uncomfortable with some of what has been said to them on the streets does not give the city the right to restrict freedom of speech: (more…)
The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) raid on local Keene smoke shop PhatStuff in May 2014 resulted in a criminal indictment against Phat Stuff owners Panos and Katie Eliopoulos in February 2015 for Conspiracy to Offer Drug Paraphernalia for Sale (21 USC 846 and 21 USC 863) and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering (18 USC 1956). In a motion filed on October 5, 2015, it was revealed federal prosecutors had offered Panos a deal where he would plead guilty to some lesser charge in exchange for the government dropping the case against his wife Katie. Although Panos initially accepted the deal, he has since changed his mind and the beleaguered Keene business owners will be going to trial on January 20, 2016 at the federal courthouse in Concord.
Contrary to what was implied in the media, Phat Stuff and its owners were not criminally charged with selling synthetic cannabinoids or any other controlled substance. In the companion civil asset forfeiture case for Phat Stuff, USA v. $695.00 US Currency et al, the complaint alleges that on August 9, 2013 an undercover informant for the DEA purchased the synthetic cannabinoid known as PB-22 from the Keene store. The sale of PB-22 was not made illegal by the DEA until February 10, 2014 when the agency placed the compound on Schedule I by administrative order. Phat Stuff stopped selling PB-22 prior to September 27, 2013 to comply with a Keene city ordinance forbidding its sale. Since the constitution specifically forbids ex post facto laws, Phat Stuff and its owners could not be prosecuted for the sale and distribution of a controlled substance. That left the government with the charges of selling drug paraphernalia, conspiracy, and money laundering.
In a six page decision issued this week, NH Hillsborough superior court judge Gillian L. Abramson dismissed the misdemeanor wiretapping charge against Alfredo Valentin – affirming the right to record police in public includes secret recordings. The judge cites both the Glik and Gericke cases which were important federal cases affirming the right to record police in public. The state argued in this case, that since the recording was secret, the right to record doesn’t apply in NH, where the wiretapping statute is ridiculously oppressive. The judge smacked that claim down:
the Court finds that the First Amendment protects secretly filming police in public, for the same reasons that the First Amendment generally protects filming police. The public has the right to gather and disseminate information about the police.
Free State Project early mover and attorney Brandon Ross is Valentin’s lawyer (Ross has previously beaten wiretapping charges at the NH supreme court.) and had this to say, in an exclusive interview for Free Keene, about the judge’s decision: “By charging him with a felony, the state destroyed my client’s career–and made things much worse with this wild goose chase prosecution. I’m glad the court wasn’t fooled by the state’s manifestly incorrect representations about the law. I look forward to him getting his day in federal court.”
Attorney Brandon Ross
Ross also excoriated the NH legislature for their inaction on fixing the horrible wiretapping statutes, saying, “This never needed to happen. Numerous bills have been brought to the legislature to fix this. Each time, the legislature has failed to act to bring simple, necessary clarity to a law which police are continually abusing. But the NH chiefs of police scare them each time, and nothing happens. The resulting litigation from that spineless failure to act, does nothing but inconvenience citizens and cost taxpayers.”
Today in Concord, ministers and members from Church of the Sword (COTS), gathered at the NH supreme court for oral arguments in their appeal of the town of Westmoreland denying their request for tax exempt status. Ministers from the Shire Free Church were there in support. The question before the court was whether the Cheshire superior court should have thrown out the case in a decision earlier this year, which affirmed the town’s opinion that the COTS is not a church, claiming it’s not religious since the church doesn’t have a belief in god.
However, as COTS’ attorney Dan Hynes pointed out, and COTS ministers argue, there are traditional, long-running churches do not have a god, such as the Buddhists, Taoists, and many Unitarian Universalists.
Given the NH supremes are only judging whether the lower court erred in tossing the case, don’t expect their decision to include an opinion on whether or not COTS is a church. A decision in COTS’ favor would simply mean the lower court should not have dismissed the case, and that the case should move ahead (likely to jury trial) at the superior court.
This week’s AKPF #1 installment features no content of particular offense to the audiences of You Tube, enabling it to be viewed by a much wider demographic. Enjoy special episode Trielium, featuring footage captured in Keene on October 02, 2015.