Friday, November 30, 2012

UPDATE: Panhandling ban won't take effect for weeks, at least

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 4:39 PM

The ACLU's efforts to temporarily block the city's panhandling ban have been postponed because the city won't enforce the ordinance starting Dec. 2, when the law was originally scheduled to go into effect.

Instead, the city attorney's office says that the ordinance won't go into effect until Dec. 19, and no tickets will be handed out during an "educational period" that lasts from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19. With the decreased urgency, a federal judge agreed to wait for a hearing that might block the solicitation ban.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 13. At that point a judge may decide to block the solicitation ban until the lawsuit is resolved.

ACLU of Colorado's challenge to new Colorado Springs’ “no solicitation zone” progresses
City proposes to delay enforcement date

DENVER — At a hearing today, the Federal District Court in Denver scheduled an evidentiary hearing for the ACLU of Colorado's First Amendment lawsuit challenging the recently adopted “no solicitation zone” ordinance covering 12 city blocks of downtown Colorado Springs, including Acacia Park. That hearing will take place on December 13, 2012 at 9:00 a.m., and Judge Marsha Krieger will hear evidence and arguments presented by Colorado Springs City Attorney Chris Melcher, ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein, and ACLU staff attorneys Rebecca T. Wallace and Sara Rich.

While the ordinance was originally slated to go into effect, December 2, 2012 for the holiday shopping season, the city changed that date to December 19, 2012.

“We are pleased that Colorado Springs has taken steps to postpone the effective date of the ordinance,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “That provides the court more time to consider our evidence, review the caselaw, and issue a ruling before First Amendment activity is banned in the Downtown No-Solicitation Zone.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four organizations and four individuals, including:
* Greenpeace and Pike’s Peak Justice and Peace Commission (PPJPC), two nonprofit advocacy organizations that want to carry out outreach and fundraising activities downtown
* Star Bar Players, a nonprofit theater group that solicits pedestrians to buy tickets
* The Denver Voice, which seeks to protect its right to dispatch newspaper hawkers to the downtown area
* James Binder, a street musician who plays the flute on the downtown sidewalks
* Ronald Marshall, a disabled Colorado Springs resident who parks his wheelchair on a sidewalk corner while asking politely for spare change
* Laurel Elizabeth Clements Mosley and Roger Butts, who assert their right to receive the communications that the new ordinance will silence

Links to the ACLU’s complaint, legal brief, and other documents can be found at http://aclu-co.org/case/pikes-peak-justice-and-peace-commission-v-city-of-colorado-springs.

The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.

###

——- ORIGINAL POST, WEDNESDAY, 5:21 P.M. ——-

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As promised, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has filed suit against the city of Colorado Springs in response to the recently approved No Solicitation Ordinance.

The ordinance is aimed at passive panhandlers, for instance a man sitting with a sign asking for spare change, since there's technically already a law in place against aggressive panhandling. But it will effectively ban all solicitors — including Salvation Army bell ringers and Greenpeace fundraisers — from public property in the downtown area. (Private business owners, as always, will be welcome to allow such folks on their property.)

Mark Silverstein, ACLU legal director, says the ban is an unconstitutional overreach.

"It suppresses a wide variety of expression that is protected by the First Amendment," he said. "...When the right of free expression is under attack the ACLU is usually there."

The ACLU is seeking a legal injunction in federal district court that would prevent the law from going into effect until the resolution of the lawsuit. If the injunction fails, the ban could be in force in early December.

City Attorney Chris Melcher has long expected the suit because he sent Silverstein a draft of the ordinance over the summer. At the time, Silverstein critiqued the ordinance as being "flawed" and "violating the First Amendment." The city subsequently expanded the breadth of the law.

Silverstein says the ACLU's main argument is that the new law doesn't meet the legal requirement of being "content neutral." He notes that under the new law, it will be legal to hold a sign saying "reelect the mayor" but not "give to the fight against breast cancer." The ban forbids asking for money or gifts of any kind.

Melcher has said he believes the ban will hold up to legal scrutiny because it is modeled after a similar law in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that survived a challenge in the courts.

But Silverstein disagrees with that logic, noting that his research shows that Fort Lauderdale's law was never challenged on the basis that it wasn't "content neutral." Rather, challengers said that law didn't meet the legal requirement to be "narrowly tailored."

"I don't think that really serves as useful precedence for him in this case," Silverstein said.

A court hearing on the case is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, but the date could change. At the hearing, the judge could issue an initial injunction. A longer injunction — which will last until the suit was resolved — likely won't be considered until after the judge has a chance to hear more evidence in the case.

ACLU FILES LAWSUIT CHALLENGING COLORADO SPRINGS NO-SOLICITATION ZONE
November 28, 2012

COLO. SPRINGS — Today ACLU of Colorado lawyers announced they filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court that seeks an immediate injunction against a sweeping “no solicitation zone” covering 12 city blocks of downtown Colorado Springs, including Acacia Park. The city council adopted the challenged ordinance yesterday, with enforcement to begin on December 2, 2012.

“City officials report that some panhandlers have been intimidating and harassing pedestrians,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “In an effort to purge these menacing panhandlers from downtown, the City has unjustifiably transformed our clients’ peaceful, non-threatening and constitutionally-protected communications into crimes. Instead of focusing narrowly on intrusive, menacing or coercive behaviors that invade the rights of others, Colorado Springs has banned any and all forms of ‘solicitation’ in a 12 city block swath of downtown. The First Amendment does not allow such a overbroad suppression of expression.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four organizations and four individuals, including:

Greenpeace and Pike’s Peak Justice and Peace Commission (PPJPC), two nonprofit advocacy organizations that want to carry out outreach and fundraising activities downtown
Star Bar Players, a nonprofit theater group that solicits pedestrians to buy tickets
The Denver Voice, which seeks to protect its right to dispatch newspaper hawkers to the downtown area
James Binder, a street musician who invites tips when he plays the flute on the downtown sidewalks
Ronald Marshall, a disabled Colorado Springs resident who parks his wheelchair on a sidewalk corner while asking politely for spare change
Laurel Elizabeth Clements Mosley and Roger Butts, who assert their right to receive the communications that the new ordinance will silence
“Our troupe uses a signboard and actor outreach outside our theater to sell tickets, which is illegal under the new no-solicitation ordinance,” said Beth Mosely, Star Bar Players Artistic Director. “As a struggling nonprofit that can’t afford traditional advertising, our financial survival depends on the ability to solicit pedestrians. Besides, street performers of all kinds contribute to a vibrant city culture and I want to be able to continue to enjoy and pay those downtown artists.”

The ACLU filed the suit in federal district court in Denver; it also filed a request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, along with a request for an expedited hearing. The legal documents can be found here. In addition to Silverstein, the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU staff attorneys Rebecca T. Wallace and Sara Rich.

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