Hamilton County sues Occupy Chattanooga in federal court

Hamilton County sues Occupy Chattanooga in federal court

January 11th, 2012 by Ansley Haman in Local - Breaking News

Two Occupy protesters who did not want to be photographed grab some belongings before leaving the campsite along the sidewalk outside the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday. Members of the Hamilton County Commission took the first step in their Wednesday meeting to remove Occupy protesters from camping on the grounds of the courthouse in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Hamilton County took its standoff with Occupy Chattanooga to federal court Tuesday.

The county sued the group and several of its members in U.S. District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the County Commission's recently passed rules governing the public use of county property are enforceable and that the protesters are violating them.

But David Veazey, an attorney representing the Occupy group, said the action is premature because the U.S. Constitution requires that a suit arise from a case or controversy.

"There's no real controversy to settle," Veazey said, because the county hasn't taken any formal action against the protesters.

"I expect I'll be filing a motion to dismiss because it's inappropriate forum to handle this issue," he said.

The county wants a federal judge to rule that, under the new rules, "those present on the Courthouse lawn are not entitled to camp ... overnight, erect or maintain monuments or markers without approval, maintain open burnings, or damage or deface government property," according to the suit.

"At no time has Hamilton County attempted to deny anyone their constitutional right of free speech and it does not seek to do so here," said Commission Chairman Larry Henry. "Rather, because Hamilton County respects the rights of its citizens and others to express their views, Hamilton County felt that these issues should be affirmatively addressed by a neutral court before any further action is taken."

For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.