Litigators from D.C. to aid Occupy Chattanooga

Litigators from D.C. to aid Occupy Chattanooga

January 14th, 2012 by Ansley Haman in News

A team of Washington, D.C.-based lawyers is joining Occupy Chattanooga's attorney in the group's legal fight against the Hamilton County Commission in federal court.

Scott Michelman, a staff attorney for Public Citizen Litigation Group, said the American Civil Liberties Union contacted his organization about representing Occupy Chattanooga.

The county filed suit on Tuesday, asking a judge to declare that rules approved Jan. 4 that govern public use of county property are enforceable and that protesters camping on the lawn are violating them. The lawsuit is filed against Occupy and nine individually named defendants.

"It's pretty rare that the government actually sues people in an attempt to have a court declare its own law valid," Michelman said. "It's procedurally not appropriate. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of governments at all levels to be very careful in observing the constitutional rights of their residents."

Occupy Chattanooga attorney David Veazey said he's officially representing the group and the nine named parties. He said he expects the parties will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit within the next three weeks.

County Commissioner Mitch McClure said he respects the protesters' First Amendment rights but supports Chairman Larry Henry's decision to seek the court ruling, known as a declaratory judgment.

"Encampment went too far," McClure said. "Tents, they don't speak. People have the opportunity and right to speak."

Local law firm Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel P.C. is representing the county. County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said he brought in outside counsel because it involves a constitutional question of whether the rules violate the protesters' First Amendment rights.

The county also is asking the court to make Occupy pay its attorney fees.

"They're seeking to have the Occupy movement itself underwrite the costs of the Hamilton County government seeking an advisory opinion of its own law," Michelman said. "We're hoping in this case to send a clear signal to local governments that they should not be in the business of trying to chill Occupy protests by dragging them into court."