2nd Circuit: Vermont gadfly wrongly barred from
By The Associated
MONTPELIER, Vt. - In a decision that breaks new ground
in declaring a First Amendment right for an individual to visit a courthouse, a
federal appeals court ruled yesterday that Vermont officials violated the
Constitution when they barred a gadfly from the courthouse in
Scott Huminski, then of Bennington, parked his van outside the
building that houses the Vermont District Court in Rutland on May 24, 1997, the
van plastered with signs harshly criticizing Judge Nancy Corsones, one of the
judges presiding that day. One of the signs called her a "butcher of
Corsones and other officials had earlier received
letters of outrage from
Huminski about her handling of a criminal case he had
in Bennington County when she was presiding there.
"As it is the policy
of the State of Vermont to encourage and allow crimes
to be committed against
myself and my wife without fear of prosecution I
must take the law into my
own hands and initiate activities that will get
national media attention,"
Huminski wrote in one letter. "When the smoke
clears, the nation will wonder
what went wrong in Vermont."
Worried that Huminski might be planning
violence, Corsones conferred with other courthouse officials, and another judge
issued a no-trespass order against Huminski barring him from courthouses and
their grounds throughout the state.
That triggered the
more-than-seven-year legal battle that produced
yesterday's decision by the
2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.
The court, ruling in
v. Corsones, reinstated a lower court's injunction that ordered the Vermont
court officials to lift the no-trespass order, saying the order violated
Huminski's First Amendment rights to free
It found that
Huminski had never acted out in the courts before, and it
suspicion that Huminski's exclusion from court property was less for security
concerns than because the judges and court officials didn't want to hear what he
had to say.
"There are facts on the record that might raise the concern
was, at least in part, being punished for his political
protests, or being
prevented from continuing them," by his exclusion from
court property, the court said.
The appeals court said Rutland County
Sheriff R.J. Elrick, Corsones and the judge who issued the no-trespass order, M.
Patricia Zimmerman, were immune from paying damages. The court reasoned that
judges need to be able to protect themselves from unhappy defendants.
judge cannot be expected regularly and dispassionately to make decisions adverse
to overtly hostile parties if subsequent actions to protect herself, her staff,
and those in her courthouse from such hostility may result in the rigors of
defending against - and even the possibility of losing - lengthy and costly
litigation," the three-member circuit court panel said.
But it said they
were not immune from a court injunction ordering them to
lift the no-trespass
order against Huminski.
Many of the court-access cases in the past have
involved members of the
press complaining that they were improperly barred
from courtrooms. But the appeals court said that even if he were not working for
an established media outlet, Huminski had the same right of access as a
"We make no distinction in our analysis between those who can
legitimately assert that they are entitled to protection under the First
Amendment's press clause and those who cannot," the court said.
Corn-Revere, a Washington lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases and
who has handled Huminski's case, said yesterday's decision "points out that all
the previous decisions really relate to members of the press and to the right of
the people on trial to have the public present."
A ruling that an
individual has a First Amendment right to enter the
courthouse merely out of
curiosity or because he wants to monitor the
activities of a judge he
believes is unjust is "a new statement of law in
that regard," Corn-Revere