Free-speech case settled
City Hall has settled a federal lawsuit brought by an animal-rights group, agreeing to pay $18,150 in a case that challenged regulations governing demonstrations during the Sundance Film Festival, long a hotspot for protesters pushing mainstream and fringe issues.
doing so, however, the government did not admit culpability or that it infringed on the group’s free-speech rights. Instead, both sides say the settlement avoids what could have been an expensive case.
In the settlement, the government agrees to pay $500 to the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, the lead plaintiff in the case, $250 each to seven individuals and $15,900 to the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The city also agreed to review its demonstration rules and whether they adhere to constitutional free-speech rights. City Attorney Mark Harrington says the rules apply to Main Street and locations outside film festival venues and are only in place during the festival, held each year during the second half of January.
Brian Barnard, the coalition’s attorney, says the case stemmed from incidents during the film festival in 2005, 2006 and 2007. He says the Park City Police Department told the demonstrators to leave.
There were more than five people, he says, and City Hall’s rules did not allow unregulated demonstrations that large. They were outside fur stores and walking on the Main Street sidewalk, he says. Barnard says the lawsuit challenged what are known as ‘bullpens,’ designated spaces for the larger demonstrations.
"You don’t target people simply because they’re exercising the First Amendment," Barnard says, adding that the bullpen was located slightly off Main Street, outside the bustle of the festival crowds.
He says the demonstrators do not want to be limited to designated areas. Barnard expects the animal-rights activists to return during the 2008 festival.
"They have found the audience, the passers-by to the demonstration, have been very supportive," Barnard says.
Harrington says the city plans to re-evaluate the rules before the 2008 festival.
According to its World Wide Web site, the group "attempts to be a voice of defense for animals suffering not only for consumption but for vivisection, the clothing trade, ‘entertainment’ industries, and anywhere else this senseless brutality occurs."
With huge crowds, celebrities and a media swarm in Park City, the festival attracts numerous people with causes, with Main Street being the favored location. Street preachers, the animal-rights group and anti-war protesters are among those seen in recent years.
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