California Man Chalks Up A Victory For Free Speech In Bank Of America Case

220px-Chalkimages-1We previously discussed the case of Jeff Olson, Chalk Menace. Olson, 40, was charged with an excessive 13 counts for writing a protest on the sidewalk in front of a Bank of America location. 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. The bank’s security contractor (a former police officer) demanded charges from the police and prosecutor who hit the protester with charges that would have allowed 13 years in prison. After Olson was dragged into court, the judge barred him from even mentioned terms like “free speech” or “the first amendment.” I am happy to report that a California jury made quick work of this excessive prosecution and acquitted Olson. It appears that, even with the gag of the court, the jurors could recognize free speech when they saw it.

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. Freeman however demanded prosecution and claimed a dubious level of $6,000 in damages for the chalk protest. Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard is shown in emails being high solicitous to Freeman’s demands and even writing him with the good news of the stack of charges.

Superior Court Judge Howard M. Shore then 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.

Well, the case apparently spoke for itself. A jury acquitted Olson in a case that even Mayor Bob Filner called “stupid” and a “waste of money,.”

goldsmithHowever, despite the national criticism of the case and the excessive number of charges, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith (left) insisted that he was protecting his community from graffiti vandalism. He does not discuss the absurd number of charges or the questionable claim of damages. There is no evidence of prosecutorial discretion or even logic in the effort to put away Olson for this simple protest.

As for Freeman and Bank of America, it is astonishing that they would want this publicity. Not a single bank official went to jail for the Bank of America’s financial dealings. They insisted that such punishment was unfair and unnecessary as their security contractor sought to pile on charges for a chalk protester objecting to those practices. BofA ended up getting a bailout for alleged foreclosure fraud and then reportedly paid no taxes on $17.2 billion in offshore earnings. However, the bank demanded that Olson be held accountable for his chalk protest on their sidewalk and a claim of $6000 in damage for chalk that was water-soluble. The only problem was not the police or the prosecutor or the judge but a jury of his peers.

Source: LA Times

33 thoughts on “California Man Chalks Up A Victory For Free Speech In Bank Of America Case”

  1. Sometimes the jury gets it right….. Now, what about a suit for malicious prosecution…. Even the judge should be brought in….. To deny the 1st amendment makes the 2nd that much more important….

  2. DavidM2575,

    Sorry, but I see oceans of difference between Paul Hill’s situation and this case. First off, flawed as Roe v. Wade is, it does correctly note that there is no consensus in medicine or science as to when life begins. Therefore, the lives Hill was trying to protect may have merely been potential ones. What’s next, shoot urologists to stop them from performing vasectomies?

    Second, because of medical privacy laws, Hill could have no way of knowing for sure whether he was performing abortions or simply consulting with any given patient; which unborn life is he trying to protect? Hill might claim as proof that Dr. Tiller advertised his service as abortion provider, but he could also be like the jack-of-all-trades handyman who advertises his electrical repair skills yet is never hired for anything but fixing leaky toilets.

    Third, Hill’s defense would depend on the danger being imminent, which it wasn’t; merely possible or likely, at best.

    Lastly, abortion services are legal under the Constitution, therefore any use of force to prevent harm to unborn lives can only be done by law enforcement. Claiming the right to use of force to prevent a constitutionally sanctioned service is the inverse of barring Olson from claiming a right to free speech enshrined in the Constitution.

    What amazes me is that this judge isn’t facing some kind of sanction for his ruling.

    1. RTC – There are numerous differences, but the one similarity is how the judge decides that the motivation for an action deemed criminal not be allowed to be addressed in court. This is especially odd to me when motivation is deemed part of the legal description for distinguishing first degree murder from something like manslaughter.

      I did not and do not in any way support Paul Hill’s actions. I was involved in numerous debates against people who did support Hill’s actions. The one thing that miffs me, however, is how a judge can forbid a defense if that defense defines a motivation and reason for that person’s actions. In Hill’s case, as I suspect in this case, the motivation is clear prior to the committed action. It is not an ad hoc explanation from someone trying to cover his real motivations. I think judges go too far in forbidding defenses, in this particular case as well as that of Paul Hill’s case.

      Just for the sake of accurate facts, I will say that Paul Hill knew exactly how many abortions were scheduled for that day that he took action.

  3. mike are you saying we the people should not have free speech? because if im not mistaken the bank DOES NOT own the sidewalk on which the gentlemen wrote. this crap is worse then here in nyc where mayor scumberg puts up trees in front of peoples homes and business without permission and then demands they pay for the upkeep of the tree even though they did not want the tree in the first place.not only must they pay for upkeep of the tree but also pay taxes on the tree. he has turned streets into sidewalks. or bus lanes and the people must also pay for that. his new fight is to try to force the people to use the citys bikes and not their own. of course which they must pay for each and every time they use them…

    i truly wish the people would wake up and take their money out of all big banks. but i suspect the minute the big banks realize that. we would suddenly have a new law demanding that we must have a bank account or face jail time…

  4. Darren Smith is correct. The fact that the chalk was water soluble does not mean that this was not an act of vandalism. The judge’s refusal to permit the First Amendment defense was also correct. However, the prosecution was silly and likely proceeded solely because of pressure from the “aggrieved” party. Juries don’t have to explain an acquittal, but the decision in this case spoke volumes.

  5. Regarding a civil suit for damages: I would not file in federal court against anyone but file a state law case for false arrest against both the opCays and the Bank. I would want some of the same persons on the first jury pool back for round two. They will be talking and the case is already the talk of the courthouse, bailiffs, clerks, and the town. On voir dire discuss the first case and his acquittal and ask if the juror could be fair even though your guy was acquitted by a jury of his peers in the same courtroom before. Lay off the opCays a bit and focus on the Bank igPays, so that the theme that the bank owned the police department and the prosecutor hits home. Do not ask for too much actual damages but put the Bank’s financial statements before the jury on the punitive damages claim. On voir dire ask any panelists if they have an account with B of A and if they could be fair. It will make those who do not have an account feel like they are smart and need to punish the bank. The costs of defending the criminal case and ten grand for the time under arrest should be the actual damage claim. On puns the sky is the limit but don’t ask for more than four million. If the guy cant find a lawyer, this dog will come out of retirement and act as guide dog for my half blind pal who is a lawyer.

  6. davidm2575:”This case reminds me of how abortionist killer Paul Hill was forbidden to make a defense in his case that he was defending unborn babies from being killed. ”

    Why, yes, now that you mention it, I can CERTAINLY see the similarity between writing on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk and the murder of two people over the abortion issue.

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