Statement from Madison, Wisconsin Lawyers Guild: State Distorts Court’s Ruling to Justify Dissident Arrests

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Anyone needing legal assistance for arrests while singing or observing singing at the Capitol can call the NLG at 608-520-0654. The coordinator will then attempt to find legal representation for the person who has been arrested.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 24, 2013
CONTACT: Patricia Hammel, pkhammel@yahoo.com (608) 257-1369

State Distorts Court’s Ruling to Justify Dissident Arrests
Madison National Lawyers Guild Again Calls for Capitol Police to Respect
Constitutional Rights of Peaceful Anti-Walker Singers

Arrested for Singing
Photo credit: Light Brigading, creative commons license use

MADISON, WI – Citizens singing traditional civil rights songs, some with lyrics rewritten to criticize the current governor and state legislative priorities, were again subjected to mass arrest in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda July 24 and July 25. After U.S. District Court Judge William Conley issued an injunction against enforcement of the Wisconsin Administrative Code and Capitol Access policies on July 8, the Wisconsin Department of Administration tried to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in their ongoing campaign to stifle voices of dissent in the Capitol. Twenty three people were arrested Wednesday, and another twenty or so on Thursday, some more than once, while hundreds sang along or looked on, including a number of Democratic state legislators.

Dept. of Administration Secretary Michael Huebsch, announcing the impending arrests on Wednesday, which included two people aged 80 and over and two journalists, claimed that the state was “enforcing” Judge Conley’s ruling, as if the judge had directed arrests. The decision issued in the lawsuit filed against Huebsch and Capitol Police Chief David Erwin did not direct arrests. Nor did it find that the state’s permitting scheme was constitutional, despite such claims by DOA spokesperson Stephanie Marquise. An injunction was issued because the court determined that the permitting scheme was improperly content based and overly broad, and that the plaintiff Michael Kissick had shown a likelihood of success in his case against Huebsch and Erwin. One of Kissick’s attorneys, Larry Dupuis of the A.C.L.U. of Wisconsin, issued a press release condemning the misrepresentation of Judge Conley’s ruling by Secretary Huebsch and the DOA’s media handlers.

“Rather than impose a blanket prohibition on enforcing the existing permitting scheme, however, the court will preliminarily enjoin defendants from (1) distinguishing based on the content of the speech between “rallies” and other events for permitting purposes inside the Capitol and (2) enforcing the permit requirement for gatherings expected to draw 20 or fewer persons inside the Capitol rotunda itself. Of course, nothing in this decision prohibits enforcement of existing laws and regulations that restrict disruptive noise or other disorderly conduct,” wrote Judge Conley granting the injunction against enforcement of the rules as rewritten by the DOA on an “emergency” basis in April, 2013.

All the singers and others present arrested Wednesday were charged with violating an administrative code provision that describes what kind of activity would justify a declaration of an “unlawful event” by Capitol Police. Yet no access was blocked to any part of the building, and no violence, threats of violence or any interference with the operations of state government during the lunch hour singing was observed
during the event, which has continued for over two years every weekday in or outside the Capitol. The tickets merely listed “No Permit” as the basis for getting a citation, and when citizens asked why they were being arrested, Capitol police, state troopers and DNR wardens told them they would “find out downstairs,” but no further explanation was offered. Agents of the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice Criminal Investigations unit were called in to help process the large number of people arrested.

The Madison Mass Defense group, involving attorney and legal worker members of the National Lawyers Guild, ACLU and others concerned about federal and state constitutional rights to petition and protest the government, has represented most of the 40 defendants given over 160 tickets in the “crackdown” ordered by Capitol Police Chief Erwin since he became chief a year ago. Only one case has gone to a jury trial resulting in a guilty verdict, and over 70 cases have been dismissed by the prosecuting Wisconsin Attorney General’s office or denied prosecution by the Dane County District Attorney. An appeal is pending in the Court of Appeals which may result in the state being ordered to pay the defendants’ attorneys’ fees if the prosecutions were not “substantially justified.”

Anyone needing legal assistance for arrests while singing or observing singing at the Capitol can call the NLG at 608-520-0654. The coordinator will then attempt to find legal representation for the person who has been arrested.

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 its motto is that human rights are more sacred than property interests.

PDF original.

Link to my 07/25/2013 post on Thursday’s arrests.

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