January 19, 2013 by National Lawyers Guild – Madison Chapter
Yesterday, after over a hundred citations have been issued to citizens for holding signs and banners and singing in the Capitol Rotunda since September, the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office dismissed the last of eight citations against Jason Huberty for “obstructing access-no permit” under Wis. Administrative Code section 2.14(2)(v) prior to a jury trial scheduled for January 23 in Dane County Circuit Court before Judge Julie Genovese.
On January 16, Judge Genovese ruled in a lengthy oral decision that “conducting” an unapproved picket or rally under sec. 2.14 means “acting in a leadership capacity,” so that an individual attending an unpermitted event is not violating the rule unless the police declare the event to be an “unlawful assembly” under the second part of the rule. On Friday afternoon, the assistant attorney general responsible for prosecuting the case filed a notice with the court that he was dismissing Mr. Huberty’s case.
Of 59 citations issued in the month of September 2012, 20 citations have been dismissed or not prosecuted. Prosecutors indicated today that most of the remaining citations will also be dismissed, leaving approximately seven citations issued for “conducting” an unapproved event, or obstructing police in process of arresting others for holding signs and banners and singing. The defendants have been anxiously awaiting resolution of these tickets for over four months.
The Wisconsin Dept. of Administration issued a press release Friday afternoon claiming Judge Genovese’s ruling “reaffirmed” the department’s permit requirement. However, Judge Genovese was not asked to rule on the validity of the law, and made no such ruling. Mr. Huberty maintained that he had not violated the Administrative Code provision; apparently, the state agreed when they dismissed his citation after Judge Genovese rejected its attempt to expand the meaning of the word “conduct” to include simply attending a rally or event.
The validity of the state’s permit requirement was challenged in a previous case, Ryan v. Huebsch, September 5. In that case, too, Dane County Judge Frank Remington did not rule on the validity of the administrative code, because the tickets were so vague he could not tell which part of the code the people arrested were accused of violating. State attorneys agreed that the Capitol Rotunda is a public forum, and Judge Remington ruled that holding a sign in the Capitol does not violate rules regulating the use of the building. Nevertheless, more than 30 people were later cited by Capitol Police for holding signs and banners in the Rotunda.
While the Department of Administration’s recent press release signaled a strong belief in Chief Erwin’s crackdown, the Department of Justice’s many dismissals and apparent reluctance to take these cases to trial demonstrates a lack of confidence in the speech-chilling policy.
The Madison Mass Defense group, involving attorney and legal worker members of the National Lawyers Guild, ACLU of Wisconsin, and others concerned about federal and state constitutional rights to petition and protest the government, is helping to organize legal representation for the defendants. All have so far contested their tickets and requested jury trials, promising a time consuming fight for the Department of Justice, which has taken over prosecution of the citations.
[The Madison Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is the local arm of the national organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students, and jailhouse lawyers. The National Lawyers Guild represents progressive political movements and asserts that human rights are more sacred than property interests. They can be reached at: Robert Jambois, firstname.lastname@example.org, (608) 203-5731 or Patricia Hammel, email@example.com, (608) 279-4136]