NEWARK, N.J. -- A New Jersey Superior Court judge today dismissedcharges against Bob Flisser, who was arrested in Flemington forparticipating in a public vigil for fallen soldiers without obtaining apermit. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, representingFlisser, argued that Flemington's "parade" permit ordinance violatednumerous free speech protections and was applied discriminatorily. TheBorough of Flemington agreed to the dismissal.
"I am pleased that the Borough of Flemington finally realized that itmakes more sense to stand up for free speech than to stand against it,"said Flisser. "I am hopeful that the town will now take prompt action tochange the ordinance so that the same problems do not arise again."
When Flisser received word that peace groups around the country wereholding vigils on August 17, 2005 for fallen soldiers, he went to theFlemington police station to inform officers that he would be holding avigil. The vigil was to be held at the sidewalk plaza in front of thecourthouse on Main Street in Flemington, a location where such freespeech activities have traditionally taken place in town. He anticipatedthat fewer than two dozen people would show up and that the plaza waslarge enough to accommodate his group without blocking any right of wayfor pedestrians, which it was. The police refused to even consider hisapplication on short notice -- as the town ordinance allows them to do-- let alone decide whether to grant him a permit. Nevertheless, thevigil took place as planned, about 24 people showed up, and Flisser wassubsequently arrested and charged with violating Flemington's paradeordinance. No other vigil participant was arrested.
Flisser was found guilty in Flemington Municipal Court on November 27,2006. The court imposed a $100 fine, which it suspended, and $33 incourt costs. The ACLU-NJ appealed on Flisser's behalf to the SuperiorCourt. Today, the Borough of Flemington, citing fiscal reasons and theuncertainty of the outcome of Flisser's appeal, agreed to dismiss thecharges against Flisser.
"This is more than a personal victory for Mr. Flisser and for what hehas had to go through. This is a victory for freedom of speech and foreveryone in Flemington who participates in it," said Fernando M.Pinguelo of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A. in Bridgewater, who, alongwith Richard A. Norris and Jignesh J. Shah, are the ACLU-NJ cooperatingattorneys representing Flisser.
Flisser's attorneys noted that the parade ordinance threatens freespeech because it covers much more activity than is constitutionallypermissible and makes no accommodation for spontaneous speech. It covers"any parade, march, ceremony, show, exhibition, pageant or procession ofany kind, or any similar display in or upon any street, park or otherpublic place." To be eligible for a permit, an application must besubmitted at least six days before an event. The chief of police hasunfettered discretion to waive these requirements, as the paradeordinance provides no guidelines for deciding whether to grant or notgrant exemptions.
"Flemington's ordinance is written so broadly that Christmas carolers,trick-or-treaters, people tossing a Frisbee in the park, or even twokids skateboarding together would have to obtain permission from thegovernment to do so," said Pinguelo.
The ACLU-NJ has successfully challenged similar municipal parade ordinances in the past.
The case was captioned Borough of Flemington v. Flisser.