Thou Shalt Not Speak Its Name: California Man Barred From Mentioned the First Amendment or Free Speech in Trial Over Protest In Front of Bank of America

220px-Chalkimages-1Jeff Olson, 40, is facing a potential 13-year jail sentence for perhaps the world’s most costly sidewalk art. A former aide to the U.S. Senator from Washington, Olson used water-soluble statements like “Stop big banks,” and “Stop Bank” outside Bank of America branches last year to protest the company’s practices. He eventually gave up his protest but prosecutors later brought 13 charges against him. Now a judge has reportedly banned his attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.” It appears someone associated with Bank of American could finally go to jail, but it will not by the bank officials in the financial scandal. It is the guy writing slogans in chalk in the sidewalk.

I have long been critical of the degree to which American judges are now barring parties from making defenses and arguments before juries. These rulings often have an outcome determinative impact on trials. In this case, free speech was the motivation of Olson, but he will reportedly have to defend himself as just a guy who walked up and started drawing in front of this bank.

Olson and his partner had been campaigning to get people to take their money out of the bank. This campaign led to a confrontation with Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, who reportedly demanded action from local prosecutors. Olson stopped when contacted by the San Diego Gang Unit in 2012.

Yet, the bank insisted the chalk caused $6,000 to clean up, a rather suspicious claim. These were slogans written on the sidewalk. Prosecutors hit him with 13 counts of misdemeanor vandalism charges and $13,000 in restitution to the City and to Bank of America.

Freeman reportedly continued to hound police to bring charges and reports state that on April 15, Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard contacted Freeman with the good news. “I wanted to let you know that we will be filing 13 counts of vandalism as a result of the incidents you reported.”

Then Superior Court Judge Howard M. Shore entered the case. Shore granted Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard and law student and city attorney employee William Tanoury. Also accompanying Hazard were two other representatives from the City Attorney’s side.

For Olson, and any free-speech advocates and political activists, the day couldn’t have gone much worse.

Judge Shore granted Hazard’s motion to prohibit Olson’s attorney Tom Tosdal from mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial. Shore ruled that “The State’s Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights.” Of course, he could simply instructed the jury that it is not a defense but clearly worries about jury nullification.

While the law does not mention the first amendment, should that mean that Olson is barred from testifying on motivation?

There is also the question of the constitutionality of a statute that bars political statements on a sidewalk written in chalk. The greatest question for me however is the overcharging by the prosecutors. I am also surprised that Bank of America (which avoided charges of its own officials in financial scandals) did not reign in its security contractor and state that they do not ask for charges in the case.

Olson will clearly not receive anything near 13 years and may not serve any time in jail. However, this seems like a case of overkill by the prosecution. What do you think?

Source: Reader

88 thoughts on “Thou Shalt Not Speak Its Name: California Man Barred From Mentioned the First Amendment or Free Speech in Trial Over Protest In Front of Bank of America”

  1. This DA is nothing more than a freakin’ shill for Bank of America and should be tossed headlong into the Pacific Ocean by a mob of angry taxpayers.

  2. “Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them.”

    – Richard K. Morgan, from the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy

  3. Disgraceful. I am ashamed for my city that we have a judge with such contempt for the Constitution.
    Also glad I closed my BofA accounts.

  4. In order to subvert established regimes, it isn’t sufficient or even necessary to have regimented legions of blackshirts (a la Golden Dawn) taking control of the streets, nor is it enough to have the support of a substantial portion of the armed forces and the police. You need to subvert mechanisms of control and in particular the executive, legislative and judiciary, so that an overall semblance of business-as-usual can be set up whilst an authoritarian culture is imposed on the citizenry.

    Since capitalism no longer felt the need to behave itself following the dissolution of the Socialist Bloc in 1989, the Corporate-Intelligence complex has spent a vast amount of money buying the federal judicial system from top to bottom; the Senate and House were the easiest to corrupt and the Bush family-and-friends have had to concentrate the majority of their time and effort in stacking the federal justice system, with the results you see. Pretty soon the dismal spinelessness of Alberto Gonzales and Eric Holder in the Justice Department are going to be replicated up and down the judiciary…

  5. I wonder if this item could be considered a Destructive Device and therefore illegal to possess?

    Chalk Contraband

  6. Every Bank Of America deserves a chalk sidewalk flower and FREE SPEECH written by preferably 6 year olds.

  7. Bernard,

    I bet if you were charged with murder and denied the ability to assert self-defense, you’d think it was pretty outrageous. Never mind that BoA doesn’t own the sidewalk.

  8. This graffiti artist can no more claim “free speech” as a defense than any other graffiti artist. Creating graffiti across town from a bank or in front of a bank is treated the same.

    Yes, the damage claim is outrageous but being prevented from claiming free speech isn’t despite how much we love to hate the rich

  9. I have increasing objected to all the rules that surround a trial… those include rules about the jurors.

    #1 a defendant should be allowed to make any kind of defense they wish … limited only by time. they should be allowed any witnesses they wish.

    #2 the jury should be selected with a very minimum of badering and challenges. the jury shall represent a random sampling of peers. The prosecution and defense can say anything they want to the jury. The jury may make findings that the prosecution was over-zealous.

    #3 the prosecutor must reveal all evidence they have uncovered before the trial. or else the trial is over and the defendant is innocent.

    #4 the prosecution should be allowed any witnesses they wish, and any evidence they wish.

    #5 trials tainted by delayed justice or illegal collection of evidence shall be declared complete and the defendant declared innocent.

    #6 Any evidence that plea bargaining was used to ramrod an innocent person or overcharge a guilty person shall result in release of the defendant and censuring of the prosecutor.


  10. Let me try again.

    More seriously, there have been a large number of draconian laws passed by state legislatures. I think it’s a deliberate move to get the question before the Supremes to get Roe v Wade overturned.

    Didn’t expect an upset stomach to affect my brain and fingers. Maybe I”ll go for a good night’s sleep.

  11. More seriously, there have been a large of laws passed in the states that draconian. I think it’s a deliberate move to get Roe v Wade overturned.

  12. raff, you’re assuming again raff. gotta watch it. you assumption: tx politicians can think and/or they can read [the constitution],

  13. bettykath,
    How can Texas think that this outrageous abortion bill is constitutional?

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