NEWARK — A Superior Court judge has validated the free speech rights of Occupy Trenton protesters and has ordered the state (240k PDF) to return all of the food, medical supplies, computers and other property that it confiscated on October 14.
“This is a victory in our efforts to secure full free speech rights for Occupy Trenton,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “The state cannot arbitrarily create restrictive policies just because it does not like how people are using a public space.”
Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Trenton granted a temporary restraining order (240k PDF) preventing the state from enforcing some of the “rules” issued in a letter from Raymond L. Zawacki, the Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in response to the Occupy Trenton demonstration that began in Veterans Park on October 6.
Protesters will now be allowed to have their laptops, coolers, signs and other items at the park on State Street. The judge ordered the state to return all confiscated belongings to protesters by November 14. The judge further confirmed that the protesters must be allowed to maintain a continuous 24-hour presence at the park, although the protestors cannot set up tents or other structures.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed the lawsuit (2.3mb PDF) on behalf of Occupy Trenton on October 26. The lawsuit claims the state’s imposition of previously-nonexistent restrictions on the protesters, and the seizure of their property pursuant to those restrictions, violated their rights to free speech and due process.
Judge Jacobson acknowledged Occupy Trenton’s likelihood to succeed in the case, noting that the state failed to follow proper procedures when it made up the restrictions governing the use of the park. She explained that the Occupy Trenton demonstrators “are entitled to have restrictions on their constitutionally protected activities imposed by rulemaking and not informal action targeted at their demonstration.”
On October 26, ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney Bennet Zurofsky appeared in court to ask the judge to impose a temporary restraining order to stop the state from enforcing the illegal rules. The ACLU-NJ will appear in court again on December 19 for another hearing on the matter.
Occupy Trenton is also being represented by ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney David Perry Davis and ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas.