Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Ruling revives activists' rights suit



The Associated Press

The U.S. Appeals Court in Cincinnati on Tuesday revived a lawsuit by activists who claimed the city of Sidney violated their free-speech rights when they were threatened with arrest while trying to collect petition signatures on a public sidewalk near a voting location.

The ruling by three judges of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a March 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge Walter Rice in Dayton and sends the case back to him for reconsideration.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1099 union and 12 of its members said the city violated their First Amendment rights by threatening them with arrest on the day of the primary election March 7, 2000.

The activists said they were asking people to sign petitions to authorize a referendum to challenge a City Council ordinance enacted days earlier to allow rezoning for a proposed expansion of a Wal-Mart store.

According to testimony, the activists initially solicited the signatures while on school or private property at least 100 feet from the entrances to polling places as required by Ohio law.

The activists said they were asked to leave and several said they were threatened with arrest if they failed to comply.

Two of the activists said an officer threatened to arrest them even after they moved to a public sidewalk.

Rice ruled that the activists failed to show that their rights were violated.

Appeals Judges Julia Gibbons, Cornelia Kennedy and Ronald Gilman said, however, that Rice should take the case back to determine whether the threat of arrest was justified based on circumstances at the scene or whether it was an infringement of the activists' free-speech rights.

The Appeals Court upheld Rice's 2002 decision rejecting the activists' similar claims against the city school system and its superintendent, city manager, police chief and Shelby County sheriff.




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