ACLU, city settle lawsuit over demonstration fees

Following City Council’s move last night to change the parade ordinance and an agreement to reimburse fees charged a local immigration-reform group, the North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has settled a lawsuit with the city over permit fees in Asheville.

The lawsuit, which the ACLU had pursued on behalf of the May 1st We Are One America Committee, charged that the city had levied excessive and unreasonable fees totaling $1,500 on the immigration-reform group for a protest on May 1, 2006, and charged for some services the group had never requested.

The changes in the ordinance passed unanimously with no comment. The ordinance now specifies that “the fees the City charges are for services that are requested by the organizers and are necessary to protect public safety. Significantly, from a constitutional standpoint, this subsection provides for a waiver or reduction of those fees if the organizers are demonstrably indigent, or as necessary to ensure that constitutional rights are not infringed.”

The May 1st group had informed the city at the time that they could not pay the fees. The peaceful demonstration drew about 3,500 people to downtown Asheville.

“We’re thrilled,” Althea Gonzalez, a leader of the May 1st Committee, told Xpress. “We’re glad the city and the police were able to get this resolved and see that people have the right to protest without being charged exorbiant fees. We’ve had a good relationship with the police before this and we look forward to continuing that in the future.”

The ACLU was similarly pleased, and asserted that a basic right has been upheld.

“People’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech in America should not be contingent upon their ability to pay exorbiant, unnecessary fees,” Katy Parker, staff attorney for the ACLU, said in the group’s announcement.

Frank Goldsmith, a Marion attorney who was cooperating with the ACLU on the case, noted in the announcement that he would ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a joint statement, the city and the May 1st Committee said they were both satisfied with the resolution. “The ammendments to the parade ordinance recently approved by City Council will improve the law’s clarity, for the benefit of both the police and the public,” the statements says, in part. “They accommodate our common interest in public safety, while preserving the right of free expression for all persons.”

— David Forbes, staff writer


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