ACLU asks DA to drop charges against homeless man
By Nathan Scharn
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 2, 2011
The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the District Attorney’s Office to drop charges against a homeless man who was dragged out of a Carlsbad City Council meeting for using words considered by some to be profane.
However, the office might not handle the case.
Police officers took Richard Shapiro from the speaker’s lectern after he used a word often used as a substitute for “wussies” during the public comment period at a council meeting Aug. 24.
He was charged with violating the Carlsbad Municipal Code’s section on council decorum, which is listed in the municipal code as a misdemeanor offense that would be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.
“The removal of Mr. Shapiro from this public forum was a clear violation of First Amendment law,” said Sarah Abshear, staff attorney for the San Diego ACLU, in a news release. “His speech did not interrupt the council, and he cannot be censored simply because the council found the speech offensive.”
The ACLU says the wording of the city’s code is unclear, and does not explain what language is considered “vulgar, profane, loud or boisterous.”
“This content-based restriction of political speech is unconstitutional, period, end of sentence,” David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU, said in the news release.
[Maura Larkins' comment: That's not what Blair-Loy said when this blogger criticized school attorneys. He said I had to obey a brazenly unconstitutional order to erase all mention of the attorneys in question from my website. Blair-Loy loves to talk about the settlements he has reached with these school attorneys. And apparently he loves the "civility" award he got for being so nice to these attorneys. It seems that he supports the constitution in some cases, and vigorously opposes it in others.]
The charges were actually infractions — comparable to traffic tickets — the district attorney determined. The office typically does not prosecute infractions, and has recommended the Carlsbad City Attorney handle the case, said Summer Stephan, chief of the office’s North County branch. Infractions are less severe than misdemeanors.
Because it is unclear which agency will prosecute, the District Attorney’s Office did not yet have a response to the ACLU letter.
Shapiro pleaded not guilty Oct. 6. A trial date has been set for April 26.