Chicago, IL - Cook County Court Judge Thomas Donnelly dismissed over 90 cases, Sept. 26, against Occupy Chicago activists who were arrested last October and charged with a violation of the rarely used park curfew law. Judge Donnelly issued a written ruling which found that the city's park curfew ordinance is “unconstitutional both on its face and as applied and all complaints in this case are dismissed with prejudice.” The Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) filed motions to dismiss in February on behalf of 92 Occupy Chicago protesters.
Judge Donnelly’s order from today reads in part, “The City’s claim that citizen safety, park maintenance and park preservation constitute the substantial governmental interests that justifies closing the park seven hours nightly fails because the City routinely closes the park for fewer than seven hours nightly, making ad hoc exceptions to the Curfew for permitted groups.” The order continued, “Because it is undisputed that the City closes Grant Park longer than necessary to serve the government's interests, the Curfew is not narrowly tailored, in violation of the First Amendment. The Curfew also violates the Illinois Constitution which provides a more vigorous right to free assembly, embracing even non-expressive assemblies.”
"Judge Donnelly made the right decision by declaring the city's ordinance unconstitutional and by dismissing the remaining cases brought by the city against activists legitimately engaged in free speech," said NLG attorney Sarah Gelsomino from the People's Law Office and one of the lawyers representing the charged activists. "Hopefully this sends a clear message to the city that they must better respect the First Amendment rights of protesters no matter what their message might be."
Nearly a year ago, on Oct. 16 and 23, 2011, more than 300 Occupy Chicago activists were arrested for protesting in Grant Park and accused of violating the city's park curfew, which had been inconsistently imposed from 11:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. Most of the 300 protesters arrested have already accepted a deal with the city to resolve their cases for community service in lieu of a conviction. It's unclear whether these agreements will need to be revisited as a result of the ruling.
In his order, Judge Donnelly pointed out the city’s inconsistent enforcement by stating that, “While the City arrested everyone remaining in Grant Park during the Occupy Chicago rally, the City arrested no one at the Obama 2008 presidential election victory rally, even though the Obama rally was equally in violation of the Curfew. That violates Defendants’ right to equal protection because it treats similarly situated citizens differently.”
After supporting the rights of Occupy Chicago activists for months, the Chicago chapter of the NLG went on to provide legal support for the thousands who protested against the NATO summit in May.