Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Criminalizing Political Speech

Today I played a game of catch-up with myself, plowing through a few newspapers that I had permitted to ferment too long on my coffee table.  It was in the Saturday/Sunday, October 11/12, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal - the best thing I read each day - that I found on the Opinion page a commentary by David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Andrew Grossman titled, "Criminalizing Political Speech In Wisconsin".  Those of you who subscribe to the Journal can just click on that title and log in.  The rest of you will just have to be satisfied with my observations.  And, you can read a summary of the case HERE, if you wish.

Both authors are attorneys with the firm of Baker Hostetler LLP.  Rivkin served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel's Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

I cannot quote much verbatim from the article without violating their copyright, but it begins with this paragraph:

"The criminalization of politics is bad enough - just ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry - but a new turn to target citizens as well threatens to permanently warp our political discourse.  Like it or not, federal courts will have to intervene to uphold Americans' First Amendment rights against win-at-any-cost politics"

Well, the title plus that paragraph got my attention, as you might imagine.

The article primarily covers a recent  attempt aimed at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his supporters, including baseless criminal charges and extraordinary investigations apparently aimed at suppressing their constitutionally-guaranteed right of free political speech.

Apparently, in May a district court in Wisconsin blocked investigations of some of Walker's supporters that were "viewpoint-based retaliation for the advocacy in support of Gov. Walker's agenda in blatant violation of their First Amendment rights".

However, in September an appeals court reversed that decision on the view that federal courts have no business interfering in state criminal investigations.

The article ends with the following statements:

"After Wisconsin, the temptation to use the law as a political weapon may prove irresistible.

The casualty is citizens' ability  to speak out on matters of public importance and interact with their elected representatives, rights which are at the very core of the First Amendment's protections.  Federal courts exist to enforce federal rights, particularly when they are under siege by state officials.  If the federal judges shirk that duty, it will only embolden those bent on misusing criminal law to silence their opponents."

My thoughts turned to our current situation in Costa Mesa, where our mayor, Jim Righeimer, has systematically attempted to quash criticism by bifurcating public comments at council meetings, forcing many of those who wish to address their elected leaders on items they feel are important to themselves and the community to cool their heels until the very end of the meetings.  That means that a person might be expected to arrive at 6:00 p.m., dutifully fill out a comment card, then learn that the random luck of the draw has placed him at the end of the pack - that they were not one of the lucky 10 speakers permitted to address the council while the audience is relatively full and the folks watching at home are still attentive.  No, they will have to wait until very end of the meeting - many times that means past midnight - to speak their piece.  More than a few have chosen to leave rather than stick around, which accomplished Righeimer's goal of quashing criticism.

Additionally, the mayor has frequently chosen to interrupt speakers, taking big chunks of their valuable 3 minutes to ask questions or just throw them off their pace.  Yes, he frequently says he will add time for them, but the deed is done.  Folks not experienced with public speaking get rattled, lose their train of thought and their message is garbled and lost.

Beyond that, and more in tune with the Wall Street Journal article, I have been on the receiving end of warnings from the mayor's lawyer in the past, telling me I couldn't speak about three items in his background - even though I had NOT done so and had NO plan to do so.  I was threatened with a lawsuit if I did address those three issues.  This is known as a SLAPP lawsuit - Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  It was a chilling experience and caused me to pause.

However, shortly thereafter Righeimer himself began to speak out on the issues, so I contacted that attorney and told him he couldn't have it both ways - that I can't address the issues but his client can.  I then began to address those issues as I felt appropriate and heard not another word from the lawyer.

This was my first personal experience with the bully that is Jim Righeimer, but it certainly was not my last.  Since then I've watched him on the dais bully, chide, berate, interrupt, vilify and threaten more than one speaker.  I've seen him complain about how long public comments took, then go on 30 minute rants of his own, sucking up valuable council time.

With each passing meeting it is more and more clear that Righeimer is not suited for public office.  He uses his position of power exactly as a dictator uses it.  He knows he has three votes, so doesn't even bother with the formality of presenting issues for discussion - he just decides what he wants to do, then does it.
It's time for the voters of this city to return control of their government to mature, thoughtful leadership.  It's time to return control to elected leaders who will listen to their constituents - all of them, not just a select few.  It's time to show Righeimer the door and elect two mature, experienced leaders.  It's time to end the oppressive, dictatorial reign of Jim Righeimer and elect Jay Humphrey and Katrina Foley to the Costa Mesa City Council.

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Developer Riggy rolled into town with lots of developer money behind him and started to.. develop.

People in Costa Mesa don't like the overdevelopment and attendant traffic enabled by this developer.

The developer now needs to curtail criticism and free speech so that development can proceed unhindered. Watch the car dealership segment of the last council meeting if there is any doubt.

There are lovely, large UNdeveloped areas around Indio, CA which can use the development skills of the little dictator.

As an added bonus, maybe he can use his speech-squashing skills on a lot of the meth addicts out there. Everyone knows they talk too much anyway.

10/15/2014 06:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Thank you Geoff. That article is a great resource. As they like to say, "Right out of the playbook".

Truly, it is time to dump them ALL and get some experienced, considerate and intelligent council members. A vote for Foley and Humphrey will do just that.

Let's repair our town.

10/15/2014 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Terry Koken said...

Did you read Fitzy's screed in the Daily Pilot this morning? It's a chunk of pot-calls-kettle-black; poor wimpy Jimmy complains that all the nasty bullies without political affiliation are intimidating poor little him and weak-kneed tea party "republicans", not to mention poor psychotic mayor R. This sounds like some sort of justification for brutal action -- either before, or after, the fact.

He has stopped posting here since registration has been required, while maintaining that he "never posted on Geoff West's blog"... He's got enough chutzpah to post a screed in the Pilot, but not enough to speak out under his own name here...

Ah, hell. Delenda est Karthago.

10/15/2014 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Yep, that bilge has been available online for a couple days. I suspect it's going to take some serious scrubbing to get that brown stuff off his nose this time. He's a sad, sad person.

10/15/2014 11:00:00 AM  

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