A victory for free speech in New York City. Congratulations to the courageous June Brashares. The only scary thing is that some of the jurors said they “weren’t clear” on whether free speech is constitutionally protected. We fail to see the ambiguity here.
GOP demonstrator not guilty, jury finds
BY DARYL KHAN
June 24, 2005
Technically, the trial of June Brashares was about the fate of one protester and whether she is guilty of a narrowly defined set of criminal charges. But the larger question hovering over the case goes to the heart of free speech: Is dissent at a partisan political convention a crime?
That question dogged a jury yesterday for hours during deliberations. Finally, they answered no. They found Brashares not guilty on all charges. Members of the jury said they thought Brashares’ behavior was obnoxious and disruptive. But they never felt comfortable with the prosecution’s case.
They said they were so torn that they continued to argue after they told the judge they had reached a verdict. “We were never clear,” said juror Emily Schildt. “We still aren’t clear.”
On Sept. 2, during President George W. Bush’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Brashares unfurled a banner that read: “Bush Lies, People Die.” She was then dragged out by Shaun Flanigan and John Peschong, “political whips” keeping the event on script. In the ensuing scrum, Flanigan sustained a deep gash, which was blamed on Brashares.
Jurors said they quickly found her not guilty of assault, but wrestled with whether she broke the law with her protest.
Earlier in the day, Brashares’ attorney, Robert Gottlieb, argued in closing that when his client unfurled a banner it was a legitimate form of expression.
“The longer she was able to hold up the banner,” he said, “the better chance her message would be seen. She wanted America to see there was a second message.”
Prosecutor Jessica Troy argued that Brashares’ actions were as carefully choreographed as those of the convention she was there to disrupt.
In a caustic closing summation, she said when Brashares walked past security with the banner crammed in her panty hose with the intention of unfurling it near Bush, she knew it would cause a disruption. “This idea that she didn’t intend to create a disruption in the hall is incredible,” she said.
At one point, Troy asked the jury if they’d want the defendant crashing one of their parties.
But a relieved Brashares challenged that notion outside the courthouse after the decision.
“Even at a private dinner party if you say something the host doesn’t like they won’t be able to tackle you, drag you and have the police come and arrest you,” said. “They’d ask you to leave first.”
See our last post on the post-RNC crackdown on civil rights in New York City