Siding with Occupy Seattle protesters, today US District Judge Robert Bryan ruled to suspend "trespass warnings" issued by by Washington State Troopers to Occupy protesters—and others—for refusing to leave the Capitol Building after closing hours (.pdf). At this morning's preliminary hearing in Tacoma, lawyers with Keller Rohrback successfully argued that the "warnings" were actually criminal trespass bans that violated protesters' constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. Here's a copy of their original class-action complaint (.pdf).
"The state patrol can’t issue any more of these trespass warnings—at least until January 5, which is the date of our next court date," explains Benjamin Gould, an attorney with Keller Rohrback. "It also means that the trespass warnings that it’s already issued, it cannot enforce."
The trespassing bans prevented protesters from returning to Capitol grounds or state parks in Olympia (including Heritage Park, where Occupy Olympia is situated and Sylvester Park, where protesters tend to congregate) from 30 days up to a year.
Seattle resident Mark Taylor-Canfield, an Occupy Seattle journalist who regularly contributes to Huffington Post and Daily Kos, is the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit handled by Gould and his associates, Gretchen Obrist and Harry Williams. Taylor-Canfield, was reporting on protesters occupying the Capitol rotunda on Nov. 28th when he was detained by state patrol officers and issued a 30-day ban.
"That they’re telling me that a journalist cannot go to the seat of our state government and report and observe on it is just ridiculous," he says. "I can’t imagine what they were thinking. They're effectively punishing protesters without booking them. You’re being punished with no charges, no arrest, no chance to see a judge or jury of your peers. It’s for expediency’s sake on their part but it violates the Constitution. It's the same with tasers, too. It's their way of avoiding due process."
Gould and his associates are hoping to make the trespassing suspension permanent either through settlement mediation or by getting a preliminary injunction (essentially an extension of the current suspension order) granted through the district court on January 5.
"We are certainly not adverse to [a settlement]," Gould says. "We’re hopeful we can come to some sort of agreement that would both protect people's rights and allow the state to protect public property." But in the meantime, protesters who've been banned for 30 days or a year can return to the Capitol and legally participate in protests and petition their legislators without fear of further arrest (unless they do something illegal, like defiantly shitting on the chest of a passing state patrol officer or something).
"We're very pleased about that," says Gould.