Occupy Asheville’s day in court

Police arrest a protester during the Nov. 2 Occupy Asheville demonstrations in front of Vance Monument. Photo by Bill Rhodes

Yesterday, 20 Occupy Asheville activists faced charges related to civil disobedience actions last year. The protesters had intentionally violated a park curfew in front of City Hall on Oct. 25 and in front of Vance Monument on Nov. 2 and Nov. 12

Attorney Ben Scales, representing many of the protesters, argued that the charges should be dismissed on constitutional grounds, as the areas were traditional forums for political protest.

“Over the years, the areas in front of City Hall, and even more so, the areas in front of the Vance Monument have been places where people have gathered to express their political opinions and religious beliefs,” he said. “These areas are, without dispute, traditional public forums. The First Amendment accords protections to people seeking to use streets, parks, and other public areas for politically expressive activity.”

Asheville City Council later changed the curfew for Pack Square Park, designating the areas in front of City Hall and the Vance monument “public forums” where protest is allowed at any hour.

“The city has seen the error of its ways,” Scales said. “These arrests could not happen today.”

But Assistant District Attorney Doug Edwards noted that the “city does not have to permit all forms of speech” and that the curfew was a “content-neutral restriction that leaves open many other alternatives” for free speech. The fact the city later changed the rule, he argued, was irrelevant.

Judge Edwin Clontz said he saw merit in both arguments, but felt the city’s curfew passed legal muster.

“I look at the statute and it doesn’t just apply to this park or that park, it applies to all of them,” Clontz said. “On its face, it would appear that the ordinance is valid. I don’t see anything that’s arbitrary or capricious.”

Following the judge’s ruling, 17 activists plead guilty to the charges — mostly minor trespassing violations — and all were sentenced to the time they had already served after their arrests.

Three activists — Matthew Burd, Robert Halas, and Victor Ochoa — instead plead not guilty and chose to act as their own attorneys, choosing to make statements about why they had protested and crediting their actions with the city’s eventual decision to lift the curfew in some areas.

“There are issues much bigger than any trespassing or curfew ordinance: they’re a moral issue,” Ochoa said. “That’s what we were after.”

Clontz found all three guilty, and sentenced them, like the others, to time served.

Three other Occupy Asheville activists arrested during the Feb. 17 eviction of the camp had their court date delayed until Aug. 30.


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8 thoughts on “Occupy Asheville’s day in court

  1. dpewen

    These folks are not criminals and should not be treated as such. Everyone should be speaking out against corporate greed and social injustices!
    Let them go free!

  2. “These folks are not criminals”

    No, they’re not criminals — just wildly misguided. Everyone should be speaking out about government greed and economic injustices. Let the marketplace go free!

  3. Dionysis

    “Everyone should be speaking out about government greed and economic injustices.”

    But corporate greed, such as has led to such financial messes as the S & L scandal of the 1980s, the derivatives debacle, the housing meltdown and the unfettered lust for profit given expression by lax or non-existent regulations and oversight are okay? It must be just hunky-dory, since you continue to call for letting “the marketplace go free!”

    And not long ago, you chastised the Occupy movement for protesting against corporate greed by insulting them for not “hanging” politicians, since their failure to enact prudent regulations is exactly what allowed these financial disasters to occur. When asked to reconcile these apparently opposite views, you pulled one of you frequent disappearing acts to avoid the question.

    And are you unable to provide any other source to back up your views than that silly Ayn Rand website, the ‘Objective Standard’, subtitled ‘Reason, Egoism and Capitalism’? That all you have?

  4. “But corporate greed, such as has led to such financial messes”

    No, that’s not true. The government caused such financial messes.

    No, the Free Market Did Not Cause the Financial Crisis

    John Allison on the Financial Crisis [video]

    Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse

    • bill smith

      “The government caused such financial messes.”

      Sort of. A more accurate statement would be [i]’an infiltration of the government by people who systematically de-fanged all regulations that previously curtailed this sort of corporate activity caused the financial mess’.[/i]

      Do you see the distinction?

  5. Dionysis

    So three hard-core Libertarian ideologues, known as right-wing ‘paleoconservatives’, are supposed to make the case? Well at least you did offer other websites, even if the message remained the same.

    Unchecked greed and the pursuit of insatiable profits is the problem (as a long-time friend of mine who is a high-ranking executive with Merrill Lynch once candidly admitted over dinner), and goofball pseudo ‘philosophies’ like Objectivism and Libertarianism in general have never been anything but illogical and untried ideas that, as I’ve noted before, simply serve as a veneer of legitimacy for people that are basically self-centered pikers who seem to disdain contributing to civil society.

    Countless people, many of little means, have become and continue to become rich and successful in this country without looking for some excuse, like “freedom-killing government policies.”

    • dpewen

      You are good with words … I agree but lack the skill to say it so elogantly!

    • dpewen

      You are good with words … I agree but lack the skill to say it so elogantly!

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