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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 protesters outside the no-protest zone violated their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.

TLPJ Staff Attorney Victoria Ni  Victoria Ni

"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."

Seattle attorney Steve Berman Steve Berman

"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 12A.26.040."

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.

About TLPJ

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.