Federal Court Grants Go-Ahead to
WTO Protesters' Cases
Court Certifies Class of
Protesters Arrested Outside the No-Protest Zone; Allows Others
Arrested to Proceed with Appeal
In a recent
court order, the U.S. District Court in Seattle certified a
class action lawsuit representing protesters arrested outside a
"no-protest zone" created by the City of Seattle during
the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in December 1999.
Originally filed by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) in 2000,
the lawsuit claims the
December 1, 1999, mass arrest and imprisonment of approximately 140
the no-protest zone violated their constitutional rights of free
speech and assembly.
"These protesters were wrongly
arrested en masse for doing something that they did not do
– namely, entering the no-protest zone to demonstrate," said
TLPJ Staff Attorney Victoria Ni, co-counsel in the case.
"As a result of this class certification order, we can
now proceed to trial on claims of peaceful protesters arrested
outside the no-protest zone."
"We do not intend to let these
injustices stand as acceptable behavior for police and city
governments," said Steve Berman of the Seattle law firm Hagens
Berman, lead co-counsel. "Instead of setting an example of free
speech and democracy for the rest of the world, we believe Seattle
used an unjust method to squelch dissent."
Dismissing the City’s argument that
class treatment was not appropriate because individual circumstances
might exist to justify each protester’s arrest, the Court noted
that class members "were arrested together at the same general
location, for the same alleged violation, and they were booked on
the same charge."
With approximately 140 members, the
class permitted to proceed with the suit is defined as "All
individuals arrested on December 1, 1999, at or near the
intersections of First Avenue and Broad Street or First Avenue and
Clay Street in Seattle, Washington, whose arrest records indicate
that a reason for arrest was a violation of Seattle Municipal Code
Notice to WTO Protestors:
Certification of Class Action
U.S. District Court, Western District of
Washington at Seattle
December 17, 2002
This notice may affect the rights of
all individuals arrested during a WTO protest on December 1, 1999,
at or near the intersections of First Avenue and Broad Street or
First Avenue and Clay Street in Seattle, Washington. Please
read it carefully.
In issuing the class
certification order on November 5, 2002, the Court also ruled
that protesters arrested within the no-protest zone had
"separate and distinct" claims from those arrested outside
the zone. This frees protesters arrested within the no-protest zone
to appeal an earlier ruling that found the City’s order creating
the no-protest zone constitutional and in the interest of public
safety. That appeal will soon be filed.
The lawsuit against the City charges
that the arrest and imprisonment of several hundred protesters -
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. The suit seeks
damages and declaratory relief.
In addition to Ni and Berman, the
team representing the protesters includes Seattle attorneys Tyler
Weaver of Hagens Berman, Michael Withey of Stritmatter Kessler
Whelan Withey Coluccio, John Muenster of Muenster & Koenig, Fred
Diamondstone, and Ben Schwartzman; Yvonne Kinoshita Ward of Auburn,
WA; Professor Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of Southern
California Law School; and TLPJ’s Executive Director Arthur
Bryant. The Court’s order dated November 5, along with TLPJ’s
briefs in the case, Hickey v. The City of Seattle, are
available at www.tlpj.org.
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice is
the only national public interest law firm dedicated to using trial
lawyers’ skills and resources to advance the public good. Founded
in 1982, TLPJ utilizes a nationwide network of more than 2,700
outstanding trial lawyers to pursue precedent-setting and socially
significant litigation. It has a wide-ranging litigation docket in
the areas of civil rights and liberties, environmental protection,
toxic torts, consumer rights, worker safety, and access to the
courts. TLPJ is the principal project of The TLPJ Foundation, a
not-for-profit membership organization. It has offices in
Washington, DC, and Oakland, CA. TLPJ’s State Coordinators for
Washington is Theodore "Ted" Spearman of Bainbridge
Island, Washington, tel. 206-842-0566.