FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2000
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Steve Berman, Lead Counsel, 206-623-7292
Arthur Bryant, TLPJ Executive Director, 510-622-8150
Jonathan Hutson, TLPJ, 202-797-8600, x149
TLPJ FILES CLASS ACTION CHARGING SEATTLE'S CREATION OF HUGE "NO-PROTEST ZONE" DURING WTO CONFERENCE VIOLATED FIRST AMENDMENT
Suit Seeks Damages for More than 600 Unconstitutionally Arrested and Imprisoned
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) filed a class action lawsuit today charging that the City of Seattle's creation of a huge "no-protest zone" during the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) conference violated the First Amendment and other provisions of the United States and Washington State Constitutions. The case seeks damages from the City, Mayor Paul Schell, and former Police Chief Norman Stamper on behalf of more than 600 protesters and others arrested and imprisoned on December 1 and 2, 1999, pursuant to the City's "no-protest zone" policy.
"Seattle could have used the WTO conference and protests to demonstrate America's extraordinary dedication to free speech," said TLPJ lead counsel Steve Berman of Seattle's Hagens Berman. "Instead, the city and its officials decided that the WTO conference was more important than Americans' First Amendment rights. They need to be held accountable, so neither Seattle nor any other city ever does anything like this again."
The lawsuit, Hickey v. The City of Seattle, charges that the arrest and imprisonment of the class members - none of whom was later convicted of any crime - deprived them of their rights to free speech and assembly under the First Amendment, their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment, and their right to speak freely under Article 1, Section 5 of the Washington State Constitution. It notes that many of those arrested were not even present in the City's hastily-designated, 24-block wide "no-protest zone."
"Both the adoption and the implementation of the no-protest zone policy were blatantly unconstitutional," said TLPJ Executive Director Arthur H. Bryant, co-counsel in the case. "This is America. People can't be arrested for peacefully protesting. They can't be imprisoned for walking, talking, or breathing downtown. City officials can't repeal the First Amendment and the Constitution."
The class action civil rights suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle this morning. It will likely be referred to U. S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, who is presiding over all litigation stemming from the city's mishandling of the WTO protests. The complaint is posted on TLPJ's web site at www.tlpj.org/wto_complaint.pdf.
Upon filing the suit, plaintiff and class representative Jennifer Hudziec of Seattle said, "There is absolutely no justification on the part of City authorities for both the constitutional and basic human rights violations that occurred in response to the non-violent protests here last December. I agreed to take part in those protests to unmask the power that an anti-democratic institution like the WTO has over our national and local governments. I now take part in this lawsuit to redress the improper and unconstitutional actions taken by my own government in order to silence the people's voice of protest by locking us away. I also participate as an act of solidarity with all those in the world who struggle to preserve personal freedom against both international and local oppression."
The events that prompted the lawsuit began in January 1999, when Seattle Mayor Paul Schell proudly announced that the White House had chosen Seattle to host the 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference from November 30 to December 3, 1999. Over the next several months, thousands of citizens and scores of respected organizations - including the Direct Action Network, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions, Public Citizen, the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, and the Sierra Club - announced plans to protest WTO policies in downtown Seattle during the conference. The demonstrators' plans were known to - and not contested by - the City, which even granted a permit for a large labor march downtown on November 30, the conference's first day.
By 7:00 a.m. that morning, however, city officials realized that they had underestimated the large number of protesters. While the vast majority of protesters remained peaceful, the City employed pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber pellets to drive them from the downtown business district. Several instances of vandalism occurred, but the police chose not to arrest the few vandals.
That evening, Mayor Schell began issuing a series of "emergency orders". He first established a nighttime curfew and then, early the next morning, declared a mammoth no-protest zone in downtown Seattle. He authorized the arrest of anyone in a "public place" within the zone whose presence was not "authorized". Only WTO personnel, people who worked or lived in the zone, credentialed press representatives, city officials, and emergency personnel were "authorized" to be present.
Even before the Mayor formally signed the "no-protest zone" order, Seattle police began mass arrests. They started detaining and jailing all "unauthorized" people in the "no-protest zone," as well as anyone who appeared to be protesting in other parts of the City. Most class members arrested were not informed of their rights - or even told why they were being arrested - and were confined for several days. All charges against them were eventually dropped or dismissed.
TLPJ has assembled an all-star litigation team to represent the class in the WTO litigation. In addition to Berman and Bryant, the team includes Seattle attorneys Ben Schwartzman of Hagens Berman, Michael Withey of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Withey Coluccio, John Muenster of Muenster & Koenig, Fred Diamondstone, and Yvonne Kinoshita Ward; Professor Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of Southern California Law School; and TLPJ's Victoria Ni. Both Berman and Bryant were recently listed among the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America by The National Law Journal.
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice is the only public interest law firm dedicated to using trial lawyers' skills and resources to advance the public good. Founded in 1982 at Ralph Nader's urging, TLPJ utilizes a network of more than 2,000 of the nation's outstanding trial lawyers to pursue precedent-setting and socially significant litigation. TLPJ has a wide-ranging litigation docket in the areas of toxic torts, environmental protection, consumer rights, worker safety, civil rights and liberties, and access to the courts. TLPJ is the principal project of The TLPJ Foundation, a not-for-profit membership organization. The TLPJ Foundation's Washington State Coordinator is Theodore Spearman at The Law Offices of Theodore Spearman, Bainbridge Island, WA, (206) 842-0566. TLPJ's Web site address is www.tlpj.org.