City of Orlando Arrests Occupy Protester for Chalk Art, Loses Almost $200,000 in Subsequent First Amendment Lawsuit

The City of Orlando spent almost $200,000 fighting a federal lawsuit after violating the first amendment rights of an Occupy Wall Street protester. 

Orlando police arrested Timothy Osmar in December for writing revolutionary slogans on the sidewalk in front of city hall (where I was once an urban planning intern). According to the Orlando Sentinel, Osmar was charged with violating an ordinance that prohibitis "writing or painting advertising matter on streets or sidewalks." The city jailed him for 18 days, then dropped the charges. Osmar turned around and filed suit, alleging that his First Amendment rights had been violated. He won, and the city paid big: 

Osmar...was paid $6,000 in damages, and the three First Amendment attorneys who took his case split $35,000.

But the biggest expense was the two high-powered law firms hired by City Hall: Akerman Senterfitt was paid $83,293, and King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth was paid $72,070.

Osmar's attorneys argued that the ordinance was wrongly applied to political speech and he was protected by the First Amendment. U.S. District Magistrate Judge David A. Baker agreed and ruled in Osmar's favor in April.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Buddy Dyer defended the cost by pointing out that the city wasn't the one to file the lawsuit.

"The city of Orlando was the defendant in the lawsuit and had no choice but to provide a defense," Cassandra Lafser said.

The two firms hired by the city, one of which had a good connection in City Hall, spent six weeks on the case: 

The city first hired King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth — City Attorney Mayanne Downs' former law firm — to handle the case. When partner David King had a scheduling conflict, the city hired Akerman Senterfitt.

It wasn't a lengthy case. Each firm worked on it for about six weeks, according to invoices reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel. King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth attorneys billed for 230 hours of work, and Akerman Senterfitt billed for 196 hours.

The two firms each had multiple attorneys working on the case, with hourly fees ranging from $375 to $625 at Akerman Senterfitt, and $260 to $400 at King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth. As a courtesy, the firms reduced those fees by 10 percent.

 It really is cheaper to respect a person's constitutional rights. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Lesson learned, I'm sure.

  • ||

    Yes, the connected law firms learned that these types of cases are very lucrative for them.

    It may be cheaper to observe someone's First Amendment rights, by why would they? It's not the politicians' money, after all.

  • jacob||

    Epi, what is the mood in Seattle with respect to the OKC Thunder's recent success?

  • ||

    Damn that guy is douchey looking but douches have first amendment rights too.

  • Gus||

    They should have used the $200K to pay someone to punch his kick his ass.

  • Gus||

    "face and"

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    "Face and they should have...."

    huh?

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    "Book"

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The city of Orlando was the defendant in the lawsuit and had no choice but to provide a defense," Cassandra Lafser said.

    No choice? Why couldn't they have settled?

    A city that size has a city attorney. Did he tell the to fight?

    Why couldn't he have told them to settle the case?

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    "I'd rather fight than switch."

    /Tareyton

  • WarrenT||

    "I'd rather fight than ask."

    /Trayvon

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    +1 bag of Skittles

  • TELLMOFF||

    $200,000 payout:
    3 percent violated citizen
    17 percent citizen's lawyer
    80 percent well-connected government lawyers

  • TELLMOFF||

    The well-connected city attorney has the job of administrative law.This means that he is supposed to make sure that records mandated by law are kept. He may never have been in a court room for his entire career.

  • Ken Shultz||

    City attorneys are supposed to give advice to the city on all legal matters, especially cases in which the city is being sued.

    For Pete's sake, I've seen a city attorney answer *some* questions about pending litigation in open city council meetings with my own eyes.

    Somebody has to make the call as to whether it's in the city's best interest to settle out of court. A standing order to fight every case the city is sued for--come hell or high water--no matter whether the city is likely to prevail or not?

    That's too stoopid even for government work.

    Slightly Stoopid would be smarter than that...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83DyqBMsVzE

  • VG Zaytsev||

    City attorneys are supposed to give advice to the city on all legal matters, especially cases in which the city is being sued.

    City attorneys are nothing more than overpaid bureaucrats. Of course they're not going to go out on a limb by offering a legal opinion, on anything.

  • Tulpa the White||

    city hall (where I was once an urban planning intern)

    I knew a city planner from Lowell once.

    Just once.

  • Rich||

    Was her name Sandi, by any chance?

  • fish||

    You don't want to know her last name...trust me!

  • ||

    Her name was Ted.

  • ||

    Am I the only one who thinks the city was right? Yes, this was a total waste of public resources. But this is a content neutral regulation of public grounds.

  • ||

    If it were something more permanent I would agree but it was chalk. I also wouldn't have a problem with chalked on advertisements either.

  • ||

    I don't see why the medium of the message should matter beyond how it might factor into the punishment. How washable it is isn't relevant as public resources are still required to wash it.

    A comparable precedent is election signage. Many municipalities control, where, how much, and how long, such signage is allowed. And they could easily ban it altogether...as long as the ban was content neutral.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    You don't need to wash chalk. The rain will do it for you.

  • ||

    I don't see why the medium of the message should matter beyond how it might factor into the punishment.

    Because of the second half of the content neutral grounds:

    They have to be reasonable restrictions on time place and manner, they have to be narrowly tailored to a legitimate interest and they have to leave open channels for alternatives.

    So the ease or uncesssaryness of washing the chalk does matter as to whether its a reasonable restriction and a legitimate interest (keeping public property from being vandalized).

    This is assuming you accept this standard which I assume you do since you cited it.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    It seems like restricting him from using a "canvas" that doesn't belong to him is reasonable and, Zod knows, there are craptons of alternative means for him to make known his revolutionary slogans. It also seems like not having to send out cleanup crews is a legit interest.

    Jail is a bit much as long as he agreed to wash off the chalk, but I'm just not seeing some big anti-1st Amendment outrage here.

  • ||

    I think it's pretty easy to argue that public property is not meant for writing on, temporary or not.

    Otherwise, you'd have to allow EAT AT JOE'S every day. On every surface.

  • Killazontherun||

    Jailing even for one minute is excessive. At best he owed the city five minutes of his time with a broom in his hand.

  • Paleo-ConAvenger||

    I agree, he should have been told to clean it up- not 2 weeks+ of jailtime....assuming he didnt punch an officer...

  • Pro Libertate||

    They've never enforced it before. That's a big problem and smacks of viewpoint discrimination. Though knowing what viewpoint they could be discriminating against with the Stupefy movement is a whole 'nother question.

  • Major Johnson||

    I'm with MP, I can't see how you have the freedom to write on other peoples property or public properties. Put it on a sign, tattoo it on your butt cheeks and say it through your bullhorn, but I can't see where he had any case.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    No need to arrest the probable hipster douche, the space he was expressing himself was a public space, just send in a couple of parks and rec workers in with a garden hose... the workers would be public employees that are likely grossly over paid, but it still would be likely be cheaper than 200 grand.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Hmm... be likely be, that would be a great band name.

  • GILMORE||

    Orlando...city hall (where I was once an urban planning intern)...

    Wait.... WTF??

    a) ... Fucking ORLANDO? Who the hell *lives* in orlando? (voluntarily) Its a goddam swamp full of speed traps, fat rednecks and awful Disneyworld tourists (*note: large overlap in latter2 cohorts), as far as I'm concerned, hell on earth.

    b) ...uh, URBAN PLANNING? Given so much of the city revenue is entirely dependent on tourism/conferences... what, are the major questions up for debate whether to name roadways, "Donald Duck Drive", or "Cinderella Parkway"?

    c) ... and again - URBAN PLANNING? I understand some people have 'road to damascus' moments before coming to libertarianism....but what, you once had AMBITIONS of municipal micromanagement? in FUCKING ORLANDO??

    Dear god Riggs. I'm glad you're sharing and all, but that's just... fucked up.

  • Pro Libertate||

    To be sure, Orlando can't name anything after Disney characters, as the Mouse would destroy them with waves of litigator drones.

  • ||

    a) ... Fucking ORLANDO? Who the hell *lives* in orlando? (voluntarily) Its a goddam swamp full of speed traps, fat rednecks and awful Disneyworld tourists (*note: large overlap in latter2 cohorts), as far as I'm concerned, hell on earth.

    Orlando has better traffic than Miami, albeit different (Puerto Ricans versus Cubans). The problem from my point of view was that it had poor urban planning (thanks for nothing Riggs!). Everything that's anything is a 20+ minute drive from downtown: University of Central Florida is in east Orlando; the airport is southeast; Universal Studios, outlet malls, and general tourism attractions are south; Winter Park is north. The only thing actually in downtown is the bureaucracy: courthouse, city hall, etc.

    I prefer living here to Jacksonville, and certainly Miami. Tampa is probably nicer (and Spaghetti Warehouse is the shit), though. And without the Orlando area the nation would have been deprived of such cumbersome news drivers as Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman.

  • jacob||

    Are the oversized headphones trying to send a message?

    "Yeah, I DJ on the weekends
    unsk-unsk-unsk-unsk"

  • Paleo-ConAvenger||

    I actually agree with the city stopping him from writing on the public sidewalk. However, jailtime is way too excessive, especially 18 days.

    But a 200k dollar award is excessive as well...

  • Andrew S.||

    There wasn't a $200,000 award. There was a $6,000 award. The rest of that was attorney's fees (the vast majority of which went ot the city's attorneys).

  • jacob||

    Well, there was a $41,000 reward, but I agree with you Andrew.

    I doubt using the city's attorneys would have cost nearly as much. These shitbags figured they could get really get that fucker by utilizing a high-powered firm, and heck, why not use a firm affiliated with one of your buddies?

  • LibertyWolf||

    At least Banky isn't tracing anymore.

  • Agammamon||

    I'm sorry, I have to disagree here. Unless there's more to this story, this guy is basically a graffitti "artist".

    Now 18 days in the slammer for tagging is way excessive (and I'd award him the money for that)but you don't exactly have the right to go drawing *anything* all over the sidewalk.

    Personnaly I would have just got a couple of city workers to scrub the shit off as he was drawing it.

  • Lord at War||

    but you don't exactly have the right to go drawing *anything* all over the sidewalk.

    Damn straight!

    Think of the revenues possible from all the five yr. olds playing hopscotch.

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