Court fight against Occupy Gainesville's trespassing arrests is delayed
Published: Friday, July 27, 2012 at 6:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 at 6:20 p.m.
The court battle against Occupy Gainesville's trespassing arrests will have to wait for another day.
On Friday, a two-judge panel granted prosecutors' request to delay a hearing on a motion to throw out the trespassing charges against 30 Occupy protesters who were arrested this past fall for being on downtown Gainesville's Bo Diddley Community Plaza after the 11:30 p.m. closing time set by city ordinance.
While the motion came from prosecutors, it was the City Attorney's Office that sought the last-minute continuance. The city's legal staff so far has stayed out of the case but now seeks to get involved.
Heather Jones, with the State Attorney's Office, said city attorneys had not received formal notice of Friday's hearing.
While granting the motion, county judges Thomas Jaworski and David Kreider expressed skepticism over the city's timing since the motion to dismiss was filed in April.
"I can't for the life of me think that the city doesn't know that motion was filed," Jaworski said.
Kreider said the "city had ample opportunity to file that notice prior to this hearing."
Bill Salmon, one of the defense attorneys representing the arrested occupiers, did not object to the motion but said the city's attorneys should have been well aware of the progress of the case, particularly since the arrests took place across the street from City Hall.
"This has been going on for months," he said. "Motions to dismiss have been filed. Responses have been fired back and forth."
The hearing has been rescheduled for Oct. 30, which means more than a year will have passed since the first arrests on Oct. 14.
Attorneys for the 30 Occupy protesters say their arrests and the ordinance that closes the plaza, which is deemed a city park, between 11:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. violate First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly on the public square.
They say it is applied unevenly since downtown residents, bar and restaurant patrons and the homeless have been allowed to enter and cross the plaza during the restricted hours without arrest. Prosecutors responded in a court filing that free speech and assembly are not "absolute" rights and "are subject to reasonable government regulation."
The ordinance in question is intended to "protect the park from overuse and unsanitary conditions," prosecutors stated in a response to the motion to dismiss.
Without the restriction, the result would be a "de facto campground in the middle of downtown Gainesvillle," they continued.
"This ordinance goes no farther than to prevent that type of situation from happening," the filing stated.