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Archive for December, 2010

In 2002, Robert Norse was ejected from a Santa Cruz City Council meeting and then arrested for giving the board a “silent Nazi salute.” Norse sued the city counsel, challenging the counsel’s decorum policy and claiming that the ejection and arrest violated his right to free speech. In 2004, while the lawsuit was still pending, Norse was again ejected from a council meeting and arrested for “whispering.” Norse added the new arrest to his complaint, but the day before his trial was set to begin, the trial court granted summary judgment to the city based on qualified immunity. The trial court gave Norse only two days notice of its intent to hear summary judgment arguments, instead of the required ten days notice.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the trial court failed to give Norse adequate notice and an opportunity to present evidence before dismissing his complaint. However, the Ninth Circuit found that the council’s policy did not necessarily violate Norse’s rights as it only banned disruptive behavior. The city argued that it was immune from Norse’s claims because members of the public only have First Amendment rights during a set “public comment period.” The court rejected this argument:

The fact that a city may impose reasonable time limitations on speech does not mean it can transform the nature of the forum by doing so, much less extinguish all First Amendment rights. A limited public forum is a limited public forum. Perhaps nothing more, but certainly nothing less. The city’s theory would turn the entire concept on its head.

The court did not determine whether the Nazi salute as used by Norse at the meeting was disruptive and remanded the issue to the trial court. The Ninth Circuit reversed summary judgment on Norse’s free-speech claims, but it found that his false arrest and excessive-force claims against the police officer who removed him from the meeting had been properly dismissed.

For the full story, click here.

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David Johns Bryson spent seventeen years in jail after Joyce Gilchrist of the Oklahoma City Police Department testified that Bryson’s hair and semen samples matched evidence from a crime scene. Bryson’s 1983 conviction was vacated after a new DNA test cleared him. Even so, it took another three and a half years for a judge to dismiss the charges against him. Bryson successfully sued Gilchrist for $16.5 million, after discovering that the chemist’s own lab results showed that his sample was inconsistent with the semen at the scene.

A federal judge, however, ruled that the city could not have predicted the falsified lab results and was, therefore, not liable. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, stating it could not rule for Bryson because of lack of evidence:

We are sympathetic to plaintiff’s plight and find it deplorable that the conditions that led to his unjust confinement were permitted to continue for so long a time after the city was put on notice of the deficiencies in its forensic laboratory program. Nevertheless, we see no basis in the summary judgment record for holding the city liable in this case.

The court noted that, even if the city failed to properly train Gilchrist, she would have known that lying at trial and fabricating evidence was inappropriate. Complaints about Gilchrist’s work did not come to light until 1986, and the court agreed that the city could not have expected the misconduct. After city officials learned of defects in Bryson’s case in 2001, they fire Gilchrist. The court held that “the link between the city’s alleged failure to meaningfully supervise Ms. Gilchrist’s work after 1986 and the constitutional injury suffered by plaintiff is too attenuated to support a finding of municipal liability.”

For the full story, click here.

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