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NYCCM: First Amendment Upheld (If Only For Paperwork Reasons)

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  • Jym Dyer
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/15/nyregion/15billy.html Case Is Dropped Against Crusading Street Performer By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS New York Times | 15-Nov-2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 14, 2007
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/15/nyregion/15billy.html

      Case Is Dropped Against Crusading Street Performer
      By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
      New York Times | 15-Nov-2007

      The Manhattan district attorney's office quietly dropped its
      prosecution today of Reverend Billy, a street performer accused
      of harassing police officers by reciting the First Amendment at
      a rally in Union Square Park.

      Prosecutors said today that they deliberately allowed the case
      to be dismissed by failing to meet a court-ordered deadline to
      file papers explaining why the arrest of Reverend Billy, whose
      real name is William Talen, was justified.

      "Sometimes not making a decision is a good decision," one
      prosecutor said.

      Judge Tanya R. Kennedy made it official at a brief hearing in
      Criminal Court in Manhattan. "The people did not serve a written
      response," she said, "so the motion to dismiss is granted on
      default."

      At the same time, Judge Kennedy dismissed separate charges
      against Mr. Talen, who is the head of what he calls the Church
      of Stop Shopping, for trespassing at a Starbucks during a
      protest against corporate conformity.

      "They essentially threw in the towel," one of Mr. Talen's
      lawyers, Earl Ward, said after the hearing.

      Today's hearing stemmed from Mr. Talen's arrest in June, after
      he repeatedly recited the 45 words of the First Amendment
      through an unamplified megaphone during a rally in support of
      bike riders. The police said he refused to stop when they asked
      him to, and followed them around.

      Mr. Talen's case had been championed by Mr. Ward and Norman
      Siegel, both civil rights lawyers, as a symbol of what they said
      is the Bloomberg administration's hostility to public protest
      and civil disobedience exhibited through measures like permit
      requirements for even small public protests.

      Mr. Siegel said the dismissal was not the end of the road for
      Reverend Billy. He said he would file a federal lawsuit against
      the city and the Police Department charging false arrest,
      malicious prosecution and violation of Mr. Talen's free-speech
      rights.

      "We call this trial by inconvenience," Mr. Talen said, adding
      that between the two cases he had been required to appear in
      court six times and spend three nights in jail.

      "There are a number of questions," Mr. Siegel said. "Who ordered
      the arrest? Why put him through the system when he should get a
      desk appearance ticket? Who made the decision to take five
      months before getting the case dismissed?"

      He called the case "a classic example of government abuse of
      power."
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