City files response to OccupyMaine lawsuit: Camp unsafe, blocks the freedom of others

For those following the blow-by-blow of the political and legal struggle between the city of Portland and OccupyMaine, the now three-plus-month-old encampment demonstration in Lincoln Park, the city filed its response to the group’s lawsuit today.

The city is asking the court not to grant a preliminary injunction, which would allow OccupyMaine to stay camping at the site while the merits of the greater case are sorted out legally, and also for an expedited hearing, in an attempt to get the case finished sooner rather than later.

This comes on the heels of OccupyMaine’s announcement that the group plans a major clean-up of Lincoln Park tomorrow (Saturday).

If you need a quick recap, or a view of some of the court documents and correspondences exchanged thus far, check in on the following selection of links to past articles and blog posts (there are plenty others in the BDN archives, including stories about other occupations in Augusta, Bangor and Brunswick, but the following provides a good timeline of the group’s conflict with Portland):

OccupyMaine attorney John Branson (BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

OccupyMaine is arguing in Cumberland County Superior Court that forcing the demonstrators to leave city-owned Lincoln Park is gashing their constitutionally protected freedom to assemble and protest, and further that the Maine Constitution’s Declaration of Rights specifically protects their right to reform their government and peaceably gather to, in part, “request redress of their wrongs and grievances.”

Here’s what the city of Portland has to say in response, as paraphrased in a city announcement today:

OccupyMaine’s complaint claims that the free speech component of the First Amendment to the federal and state constitutions makes the application of the Parks Ordinance, which restricts use of parks by the public to the hours of 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. and requires a permit granted by the City Council for events lasting more than three days, illegal.

In its 42-page response, the city cites numerous federal, state and the leading US Supreme Court case, ‘Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence,’ in defense of its notice to vacate issued to OccupyMaine Dec. 15, 2011. The cases held that even if certain types of occupancy are considered activity protected by the First Amendment, state laws or local ordinances, similar to Section 18-41 of the Portland Ordinance that control the use of public parks, comprise reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on freedom of speech as protected by the Constitution. The decisions also support compliance with health, welfare and safety codes like the City’s Building Code and Fire Codes as well as park maintenance and protection requirements.

Further, these cases note the important role that municipal ordinances and rules play in limiting requests for exclusive use of public parks or public space so that the space may be used and enjoyed by a broad spectrum of citizens for a variety of uses.

If you want to read the city’s filings directly, they’re posted here:

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.