Municipal Court Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr. consolidated 90 cases today in a hearing stemming from the arrest of more than 300 Occupy Chicago activists in October who were charged with violating a city-imposed curfew at Grant Park. The dozens of activists affected by the ruling today are fighting their charges and, with the help of National Lawyers Guild attorneys, have filed motions to dismiss their cases based on a violation of their First Amendment rights. The city has until January 20th to reply to the dismissal motions and a hearing is scheduled for February 15th at 1:30pm before Judge Wright.
“It’s an outrage that the city is spending precious tax-payer dollars to prosecute frivolous cases, while being unwilling to give an inch to accommodate the free speech rights of Occupy Chicago activists,” said Sarah Gelsomino, with the People’s Law Office in Chicago and one of the attorneys who filed motions to dismiss on behalf of Occupy Chicago defendants. "This intolerance of political protest in Chicago is casting serious doubts about the city's respect for and ability to uphold the rights of dissidents in advance of the NATO/G8 demonstrations," continued Gelsomino. "The needless arrest and prosecution of hundreds of Occupy Chicago activists sets a distressing precedent as thousands of people are expected to protest here in May."
Approximately 175 people were arrested on quasi-criminal charges in the early morning hours of October 15th as activists remained protesting in the park after 11pm. A week later, on October 22nd, another 130 people were similarly arrested. Out of a total of more than 300 arrests, the vast majority of Occupy Chicago activists have had their first court appearances. So far, at least 90 people have filed motions to dismiss based on a violation of their First Amendment rights, more than 40 people say they will seek a jury trial if necessary, and over 140 people have accepted the city's offer to dismiss the charges in exchange for 10 hours of community service.
The Guild is also supporting the Occupy movement in dozens of other cities around the country through its Legal Observer™ program and by defending hundreds of people who have been arrested. The Guild has also mounted successful civil actions in several cities to protect the rights of Occupy activists.
Two important dates to remember are January 15th, which is a meeting for those who were arrested and want to fight the charges. This meeting will include NLG representation and is only for those who have filed the motion to dismiss, as to respect attorney-client privilege.
Second, February 15 will be the hearing on the motion to dismiss. This will be at the Daley Center at 1:30 pm, room 1307.