Music

Street Musician Has First Amendment Right to Perform, Will Have Legal Bills Paid by City of Providence

Court rules city of Providence has to pay saxophonist Manuel Pombo's ACLU lawyers.

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Saxomophone, saxomophone…
Richard Clarke/Dreamstime.com

Street busker Manuel Pombo has been performing on the streets of Providence (R.I.) since the early 90s. He even secured a letter of permission to do so from the city's Board of Licenses, but that letter prohibited him from soliciting donations.

Over the years, Providence police officers would variously tip Pombo for his musical efforts, though at other times they would order him to stop playing because he was "begging," and even arrest him for "disorderly conduct." In 2015, Pombo secured the representation of lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island who filed suit against the city arguing that playing music and soliciting donations are both protected by the First Amendment.

This past January, the city settled with Pombo, freeing him to earn a living on the streets of Providence as well as awarding him $1,500 in damages. And earlier this week, the city was commanded by a federal judge to pay Pombo's ACLU lawyers $21,610.50 for their efforts in securing the settlement, according to the Providence Journal.

John W. Dineen, one of the ACLU lawyers, was quoted as saying at the time of the settlement:

Ben Franklin, who was a busker in his early days, will be glad to see that the First Amendment still has some life in it, although it takes a street saxophonist and the ACLU to keep it going.

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  1. And earlier this week, the city was commanded by a federal judge to pay Pombo’s ACLU lawyers $21,610.50 for their efforts in securing the settlement…

    Why don’t taxpayers just put the ACLU on retainer?

    1. Because that would make them govermnet employees, duh. Whose side are you on?

  2. Hey ACLU — what’s the Second Amendment, chopped liver? I bet Ben Franklin used a gun too.

    1. Was gonna say the same thing. Franklin appreciated the entire Bill of Rights.

    2. Pshaw. Who cares what some dead white slaveowner thinks, even if he did invent lightning?

  3. And earlier this week, the city was commanded by a federal judge to pay Pombo’s ACLU lawyers $21,610.50

    If jurisdictions were on the hook for defense of all prosecutions found not guilty, jurisdictions would vastly improve where they pick their battles.

    1. I’ve always thought they should be. It seems totally unreasonable that you should have to pay up because some cop or prosecutor charged the wrong person. Loser pays just makes sense. Can anyone think of any reason why that shouldn’t just be the default way it works?

      1. Because then hwo could homeless activists sue McDonalds? They’d have to actually pay their lawyers or, ugh, win. And that’s just not fair, juries are brainwashed by going to McDonald’s, how you gonna get an impartial jury, and that’s with everyone knowing how evil McDonald’s is, except for those unwashed masses who actually go there, which is nobody, right, because everyone knows McDonald’s steals that money to make profits and their stuff only costs like 2 cents.

        Amirite?

      2. We already have laws on the books requiring the filer of a frivolous lawsuit pay the defendant’s expenses.

        Loser pays for all suits means that a poor person would be risking financial ruin to sue a rich person or a corporation (or the government btw), no matter how good their case was. Especially since they have no control over what rates their opponent’s lawyers claim or any of the expenses that they claim to rack up.

    2. I’m sure that insurance paid that. Municipalities, like most levels of government, aren’t generally all that concerned with what taxpayers are forced to foot.

  4. Lesson learned, next time the cops will just shoot the guy.

    1. Sax lives matter

  5. Well done on the alt-text.

    1. Fisher is two for two with the alt text today. Has Shackford been helping him?

    1. by the way, i personally believe the above would be far more effective than waterboarding if applied correctly.

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  7. Advertising a mutually beneficial transaction is commercial speech, and thus subject to whatever regulation the government sees fit, First Amendment be damned.

    Demanding money for nothing, however, is free speech.

    Understand? Me either.

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