The City of Dallas has settled a first amendment lawsuit with protestors who were ticketed for protesting outside the Bush Library, the week of its opening in May of 2013.
“It’s taken much longer and it’s been much more time-consuming and circuitous process to get something—which I thought at the outset would be a fairly simple case,” said Paul Heller, the lead plaintiff in the case.
The City has agreed to pay a group of protestors $270,000 dollars, primarily for attorney’s fees generated by the protestors in their lawsuit against Dallas.
Additionally, a judge in the case also fine and sanctioned the Dallas City Attorney’s Office for failure to cooperate with Heller and the other protestors during the legal process of discovery.
Dallas Police Officers arrested the protestors for carrying protest signs near the library in the days before it even opened. The City said the protestors had violated a 25-year old ordinance banning protest signs near a freeway. A judge chose to allow protests during the opening—while the issue went through the legal system.
“People have a right to get on the public sidewalks to express their views or demonstrate or protest or whatever,” said Anne Shuttee, Heller’s Attorney.
Legal analyst John Helms says the City of Dallas overplayed a weak hand. He says an aggressive approach likely racked up even greater costs to taxpayers then what’s in the final settlement because of all the staff time the city used to fight against Heller.
“In this case I think they should have realized pretty early on that this particular ordinance, as applied, was going to have some serious first amendment problems,” said Helms, a former Assistant United States Attorney
Because of Heller’s challenge, the City has since repealed the ordinance. He doesn’t understand why it took so much time and taxpayer money. Would he do it again?
“Hard to predict. If it was something as onerous and unreasonable as this one I think, sure I would. I hope there’s a lot people who would,” Heller said.