Thursday, June 18, 2015

Artists sue City for First Amendment violations, AGAIN -- when will City of St. Augustine EVER learn to respect our First Amendment rights?


"It's like déjà vu all over again." -- Yogi Berra

United States District Court in Jacksonville, Florida will be the venue for yet another lawsuit brought by artists and musicians against the City of St. Augustine, which persists in violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of free speech and equal protection. Let freedom ring! Again.

Counsel for four fine artists filed the lawsuit today, Thursday, June 18, 2015, once again challenging City's unconstitutional artist suppression ordinances, policies, practices, and procedures.

It alleges continuing 32 years of continuing violations of the First Amendment by the City of St. Augustine, which continues to violate artists (and musicians') rights despite federal court judgments against it, won as recently as 2009 by four visual artists, three of the four artists are also bringing today's lawsuit -- Bruce Bates, Elena Hecht, Kate Merrick; the new plaintiff this time around is Helena Sala.

The lawsuit asks that several city ordinances be declared unconstitutional (22-6, 22-10, 22-14, 22-17& 22-18 and Article VII, section 17), both on their face and as applied. A child could be fined for coloring in a coloring book, the lawsuit alleges, and the vast acreage where artistry, sales and performances are illegal embraces much of the most historic areas of our town. The lawsuit and motion skewer the limited hours (10 am to 6 pm), high costs, bond requirements, liability insurance, long delays, lack of alternative venues and unbridled discretion associated with the peddler's ordinance, the mobile vendor ordinance, and permits and insurance for the Plaza and Visitor Information Center. These include "good moral character," void for vagueness, and a requirement for "references" from "property owners."

This is Jim Crow law. Today is the 51st anniversary of the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history, here in St. Augustine, supporting desegregation efforts led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young and Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S. -- on June 11, 1964, Dr. King called St. Augustine "the most lawless city" in America.

The lawsuit seeks a a preliminary injunction before trial based on likelihood of prevailing on the merits (which they won before), and prays for monetary damages, injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment, attorney fees and costs.

Efforts to reach counsel for the artists and the City, or the Mayor or City Manager, were unavailing. City Attorney Isabelle Lopez's e-mail is answered with a message stating she is out of the office June 16-30, 2015. Efforts to reach St. Augustine attorney Thomas E. Cushman and Jacksonville attorney Bryan DiMaggio with the William Sheppard law firm were unsuccessful.

The suit was filed after the artists, musicians and their local lawyer, Tom Cushman, appealed to the better angels of the City's nature and after none of the "Gang of Four" agreed with Mayor Nancy Shaver that the streets of St. Augustine were "not lively" and that the First Amendment needed to be respected and not rejected.

The suit traces the history of St. Augustine's various nefarious artist-suppression ordinances and the First Amendment, including federal court victories against the City that the City government ignores in its systemic violations of First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit has been assigned to United States District Judge Brian J. Davis, the first African-American Chief Deputy State's Attorney in the State of Florida, who served for nearly twenty (20) years as a Circuit Court Judge in Nassau County.

Judge Brian J. Davis' United States Senate confirmation was held up for 660 days by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who did not like the "lens" through which Judge Davis "viewed the world." Bigoted Senator Grassley was referring to Judge Davis being an African-American and NAACP member who criticized Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the treatment of former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. Earlier this year, Judge Davis dismissed Sheriff's Deputy JEREMY BANKS' lawsuit against FDLE Agent Rusty Rodgers for failure to state a claim, giving him an opportunity to amend. Non-lawyer bigot Grassley is now chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A hearing on the preliminary injunction is expected this summer. An order could come immediately, restoring artists and musicians to their rightful places in St. Augustine. While the suit is brought on behalf of four artists, the suit seeks to invalidate the same ordinances that oppress our street musicians.

As JFK said, "A rising lifts all boats."

BRYAN SIMPSON FEDERAL COURTHOUSE, named for the federal judge who ordered desegregation of St. Augustine in 1964

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called St. Augustine "the most lawless city in America" in June 11, 1964 letter to Rabbi Isreael "Sy" Dressner; here Dr. King leads demonstrators in West Augustine, on West King Street -- JIM CROW LAW directed against street artists and street musicians has prevailed for 34 years, repeatedly struck down by federal courts, but championed by commercial property owners, who have abused police powers to run talented tourism workers out of town -- Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR was their willing accomplice for years, until developers raised $250,000 to elect him Sheriff in 2004.


Jim Olds said...

As a street performer I am pleased at this and hope that our rights are restored. As a vendor who also has a business relationship with the City to sell at the VIC I do not like being unknowingly represented and dragged into this lawsuit and having my business arrangement jeopardized. Let's be honest...every past win in court has not resulted in opening up the city to artists and performers, but instead has caused further restrictions and further animosity between the city and performing artists. The last suit won by the artists supposedly opened up the Plaza to artists and performers and by all means let me know when you see one there as they are immediately told to move on or are ticketed or arrested. All I envision is that we will lose the last two or three busy streets where we can perform and the dissolution of a fair and reasonable arrangement with the city to rent space and sell at the VIC.


Good luck Tom Cushman.

Stephany Suydam said...

Good job on standing up for your rights and good luck :)