|Jeff Olson, Chalk Activist Facing 13 years in jail for protesting Bank of America|
California chalk protester hit with gag order Published time: June 28, 2013 20:56 Edited time: June 29, 2013 08:19 Reuters / Darryl Webb A California man facing more than a decade in prison for writing with chalk on public sidewalks has been told he’s barred from discussing the details of his controversial case outside of court.
Judge Howard Shore issued a gag-order in a San Diego, California courtroom this week against Jeff Olson, a 40-year-old activist that used washable children’s chalk to scribble anti-bank slogans in public space last year. According to the San Diego Reader, the gag-order issued on Friday also applies to witnesses, members of the jury and potentially others, a measure that Truth-Out editor Mark Karlin said is “unprecedented” for a misdemeanor trial. Olson has been charged with 13 misdemeanor counts of vandalism for chalking slogans such as “No Thanks, Big Banks” and “Shame on Bank of America” on the sidewalks outside of branches in the San Diego area throughout 2012. Now as the criminal trial against him wages on in Southern California, the defendant and anyone remotely involved in the case are reportedly muzzled by a ban that could bring media coverage of the case to a grinding halt. The Reader reports that Judge Shore issued the gag-order during Friday’s hearing after expressing his discontent with comments Olson made about his potential sentencing.
According to the charge sheet filed by the city of San Diego, Olson could be subjected to $13,000 in fines and a maximum of 13 years in prison if convicted, prompting the defendant to make a myriad of remarks in recent weeks, including one to the U-T San Diego newspaper that called the prosecution, “an unconstitutional overreach and a total waste of taxpayer money.”
Shortly after those remarks, OIson read a note to the court that said in part, “This morning Judge Shore issued a gag order prohibiting all counsel and parties from commenting or expressing opinions on the case. All I am permitted to say is that I disagree.”
As Karlin notes, Judge Shore’s issuing of the gag-order came just days after Olson told reporters, “My chalk drawings are clearly free speech and protected by the First Amendment.”
Speaking to CBS News previously, Olson defended his act of protest:
“Always on city sidewalks, washable chalk, never crude messages, never vulgar, clearly topical,” he said.
Prosecutors in San Diego aren’t amused with his work, however, and have discounted Olson’s assertion that he was engaging in an act of free speech. Judge Shore said earlier in the week that Olson’s attorney is prohibited from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct or political speech during the trial,” but the issuing of a gag-order now limits much more than what was already decided.
Olson said that at the heart of his case is not the issue of vandalism, but an infringement on the right to free speech. He has accused San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith of trying to stop him from talking because he has raked in heavy donations from the banks in the past, and is now reported to be eyeing a bid at the mayor’s role in 2016.
“Jan Goldsmith has received campaign contributions from Bank Americorp and Merrill Lynch. I think this is mostly about Goldsmith for Mayor 2016,” Olson told San Diego 6 News.
“If I had drawn a little girl’s hopscotch squares on the street, we wouldn’t be here today,” the activist added to KGTV News.
Bob Filner, the mayor of San Diego, issued a statement last week calling for the city to drop their case against Olson.
“This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children’s chalk on a City sidewalk,” Filner wrote. “It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.”
Goldsmith responded to the mayor’s claims by defending the prosecution, saying, “We prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be.”
“We don’t decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks,” Goldsmith told the U-T San Diego website. “That would be wrong under the law and such a practice by law enforcement would change our society in very damaging ways.” (Did he just say that! LOL!!! Washable chalk is vandalism? Who is he fooling? -AK)
“I’m am not going out on a limb to say that this is outrageous,” quipped Olson.
“Chalk-U-Py” Protest, Petitions Follow Judge’s Gag Order in Bank of America Graffiti Trial
By Doug Porter
|San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith|
Things are going out of control for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. His office’s decision to prosecute 40 year old Jeff Olson for using children’s washable chalk to scrawl protests on sidewalks adjacent to Bank of America branch offices has garnered world wide notice. And it’s not the kind of publicity the Downtown Tourism folks appreciate.
A newly organized group calling itself Liberals for Liberty has announced plans to create a chalk mural of the Constitution with focus on the First Amendment in front of the San Diego Hall of Justice. A Facebook page set up for the event calls for local artists to meet up Saturday (June 29th) at the courthouse, 330 West Broadway, San Diego.
At Change.org, a petition went up Friday morning calling upon City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to drop the prosecution of Jeff Olson for chalk graffiti, citing “an obvious abuse of power and a wasteful use of the resources of the City of San Diego.” The influential Daily Kos blog has also announced a petition, saying “prosecuting people who chalk political messages on vandalism charges is a blatant abuse of power.”
In the wake of a gag order by Judge Howard Shore prohibiting the defendant or any witnesses from speaking to any members of the media, coverage of the case has ballooned, with stories via both Reuters and Associated Press appearing in news outlets (including the New York Times) nationally and internationally. Independently written accounts also appeared in newspapers as far away as Sweden.
San Diego’s latest shame caught the eye of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterday, who felt motivated to comment about the case on Twitter:
You’ve got to be kidding me. http://t.co/8d8AhpJBif
Over 90% of 650 +readers in a UT-San Diego online poll indicated they thought the prosecution on Jeff Olson was wrong
Meanwhile over at the San Diego Reader, reporter Dorian Hargrove, who originally broke the story, continues to provide excellent coverage of the trial. Unfortunately much of the national coverage of this story is based on a UT-San Diego story which failed to credit Hargrove’s reporting. From yesterday’s account:
At today’s hearing, Judge Shore didn’t stop at voicing his disappointment with the media coverage. He then turned his attention to Mayor Filner for his statements in support of the defendant’s right to free speech.Shore said the Mayor was “irresponsible” for comments he made in a June 20 memo, as was reported here on June 23.
“This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children’s chalk on a City sidewalk,” read Filner’s statement. “It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.”
Shore also stated that the Mayor has no place injecting himself in court trials, regardless of his opinion on the case.
A good backgrounder on the case, now known as #ChalkGate on the internet, appeared in TruthOut/BuzzFlash:
The trial, which is now underway, resulted from the contracted head of security for Bank of America in San Diego, Darell Freeman, leaning on his apparent former colleagues in the SD police department. Paige Hazard, deputy city attorney, informed Olson of the charges, after a prosecution referral was received from — get this — the city’s gang crimes unit. Olson had moved onto more personal pursuits months ago, but Freeman and the Bank of America didn’t like his disappearing chalk protests during the Occupy movement and. as in Les Miserables, were in unrelenting hot pursuit of the sidewalk protester.
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The Judge’s ‘Dope’ Comments
Judge Howard Shore’s past has come into play, as commenters are remembering his role in a infamous San Diego medical marijuana prosecution.
Back in 2009 County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis made headlines, touting more than 60 arrests in raids coordinated with the feds on pot dispensaries, dubbed “Operation Green Rx”. Of the two cases the DA chose to take to trial, both had resulted in acquittal.
From the SD Reader account of the case of Jovan Jackson:
Jackson was the former operator of the San Diego medical marijuana dispensary Answerdam Alternative Care Collective. It was the second trial in less than a year for Jackson, who was arrested in a multi-agency law enforcement raid in September 2009. Jacksonwas acquitted by a jury in December of marijuana possession and distribution charges stemming from a 2008 arrest. This time, however, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis convinced Superior Court Judge Howard H. Shore to deny Jackson a medical marijuana defense, virtually assuring a conviction.
The OBRag reported that Jackson “was denied a defense and ultimately convicted. San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard Shore, … referred to medical marijuana as “dope,” and called California’s medical marijuana laws “a scam,” … sentenced Jackson to 180 days in jail.”
The case was overturned on appeal on Oct 24, 2012, a ruling which was published (meaning it became a legal precedent).