Friday, July 12, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #116 - Part 1

Good news 1: Jeffrey David Olson

A couple of good news-bad news stories to start us off.

Jeffrey David Olson of San Diego was angered by the Bank of America’s immoral, unethical, and illegal treatment of people caught in their web of mortgage and foreclosure intrigue, even more so by the fact that none of this seemed of any concern to federal law enforcement or regulators.

He started a message campaign because "Wall Street banks nearly drove our economy into the ditch" and that “there was basically a criminal racket operating on my block, and I didn't find that acceptable."

So he took to writing statements on the sidewalk in front of three of BoA’s branches in SD. He used children’s sidewalk chalk, the type that washes away in the rain or scuffs off after maybe a couple of days. Between April and August of last year he left 13 such messages, saying thing like "No thanks, big banks" and "Shame on Bank of America."

As a result, after the local security officer for Bank of America prodded the City Attorney's office, Olson was charged with the 13 counts of vandalism, each of which could hypothetically cost him a year in prison and a $1000 fine.

The case got some attention for two reasons beyond the simple absurdity of the charges: One is that the statute requires that something was "maliciously defaced” to qualify as vandalism. Since there was no physical damage and the chalk, again, could easily be removed at minimal cost - or even no cost, if it rained - the only possible application of “malicious” would be to the content of his messages, which would seem to make it an open-and-shut case of free speech.

Which brings up the second reason it got attention: The judge, one Howard Shore, granted a prosecutorial motion to forbid Olson from citing in his defense the phrases "First Amendment," "free speech," "free expression," "public forum," "expressive conduct" or "political speech." The law, he said, “does not mention First Amendment rights," thereby placing a local law about graffiti above the Constitution.

Shore later imposed a gag order on Olson, barring him from talking to the media about his case - remember, this is a misdemeanor case. So according to the city prosecutor, you can potentially face 13 years in prison for expressing your opinion with washable chalk if a giant corporation wants it so and according to “Judge” Shore, you can be banned from complaining that you've been forbidden to argue that being threatened with those 13 years in prison is a violation of your free speech rights.

So what’s the good news?

First, people rallied around him, including writing messages about free speech on the sidewalk around the Hall of Justice, where the trial was held.

Second, last week he was acquitted on all 13 counts, as the jury showed much more sense than the police, the prosecutors, or the judge did. And to make it all the sweeter, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner condemned the City Attorney's Office, calling the whole prosecution a waste of time.

Footnote: After the acquittal, “Judge” Shore condemned the media for sensationalizing the case. Which is not surprising: Vampires do their best work in the dark.


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