Public Comment And Civil Rights

Here are the City of Riverside’s Rules of Decorum, etc. as of 2010 and the day I was arrested:

Here’s a link to a relevant 2013 Ninth Circuit case, Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa:

These Rules of Decorum are apparently STILL the Rules, because City Council meeting agendas all state, on the first page, “Pursuant to the City Council Meeting Rules adopted by Resolution No. 22131 [that’s the document in the link above], the Members of the City Council and the public are reminded that they must preserve order and decorum throughout the Meeting. In that regard, Members of the City Council and the public are advised that any delay or disruption in the proceedings or a refusal to obey the orders of the City Council or the presiding officer constitutes a violation of these rules. ”  [Emphasis added.]
Check out the holding in Acosta.  It says that a city cannot deem any violation of its Rules of Decorum to be a “disturbance” for purposes of ejecting a citizen from a public meeting and there has to be actual disturbance or impeding of the meeting.

The opinion states that because the Costa Mesa ordinance, No.2-61, “fails to
limit proscribed activity to only actual disturbances, we reverse the district court’s constitutionality ruling and find the statute facially invalid.”     So, when the Mayor orders someone to stop applauding, and the applause was not actually disturbing the meeting (as opposed to disturbing HIM), but the City agendas states that  a refusal to follow the orders of the Mayor constitutes a violation of these “Rules,” then what?  Well, under Acosta, the ordinance is unconstitutional.

  Page 1 of the Rules states that “the following shall be the Rules of Procedure and Order of Business of the City Council, and shall govern all proceedings of the City Council therein described, subject to the exceptions and deviations provided for in such rules.  Violation of these rules shall not be construed as a penal offense, excepting that breach of the peace or willful failure to comply with the lawful orders of the City Council or its presiding officer shall be punishable as misdemeanors under applicable law.”  [What’s a “lawful order?”  I contend — and I’m right — that the Mayor cannot lawfully order people not to clap if the clapping is not actually disrupting a meeting.  Notice in my transcription of his comments (my earlier e-mail) that before I was arrested Rusty said that the clapping could be “interpreted” as “intimidating” (!!!) and that the clapping was allegedly disrupting the “procedure” that the council had adopted — but NOT that it was disrupting the meeting!]

Page 4 states, at “D. Decorum,”:
  “While the City Council is in session, the members must preserve order and decorum, and a member shall not, by conversation or otherwise, delay or interrupt the proceedings or the peace of

the City Council nor disturb any member while speaking, nor refuse to obey the orders of the City Council, or the presiding officer, except as otherwise herein provided.”  This section seems to apply to members of the City Council, not the public, but later on, at p. 11 of the Rules, the Rules provide that:


A. Members of the public attending the City Council meetings
shall observe the same rules and decorum applicable to the City Council and staff. [Right here I think there’s a big problem.  They can pass all the rules for themselves tehy want, but they can’t pass apply rules to the public that are contrary to constitutuional rights of free speech.]

B. All speakers must approach the podium when recognized by the Mayor. Members of the public shall only speak from the podium. Stamping of feet, whistles, yells or shouting, and/or similar demonstrations are unacceptable public behavior.” [I guess this means the council members can whistle unless the Mayor orders them not to.]
At pp. 24-25 of the Rules, there is another section on decorum:

    “It is the policy of the City Council that the right to express one’s views at a City
Council meeting is fundamental to a free society; however, it is not absolute and is subject to valid regulations. The public has a right to address the City Council at any meeting on any subject that is within the City Council’s subject matter jurisdiction and further, the public has the right to express its criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the City or its acts or omissions. We must balance the right of the public to address the City Council with need to ensure that public comment does not hinder the smooth and efficient legislative function of the City Council.[This doesn’t seem to meet the standard of PC 403 related to actually intentionally disturbing a public meeting.]

    “No member of the public shall approach the
speaker’s podium while the City Council is in
session, unless specifically requested to do so by
the presiding officer.
Unruly conduct, such as undue noise, hissing, profanity, insult or physical disturbance
which disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of the Council meeting shall not be permitted.  [This seems okay because it’s qualified by a requirement that the listed actions “disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes, etc. but what’s “undue noise”? 
The Mayor is interpreting it as ANY clapping]  Any person making personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane remarks to any member of the Council, staff or general public which disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of any Council meeting shall, at the discretion of the presiding officer or a majority of the Council, be barred from further audience before the City Council at said
meeting, unless permission tocontinue be granted by a majority vote of the Council.

    “Any law enforcement or security officers on duty or whose services are commanded by the presiding officer shall be Sergeant-at-Arms of the City Council meetings. The Sergeant-at-Arms shall carry out all orders and instructions given by the pres
iding officer for the purpose of maintaining order and decorum at the City Council’s
meetings. Upon instructions of the presiding officer, it shall be the duty of the Sergeant-of-Arms, or any of them present, to place any person who violates the order and deco
rum of the meeting under arrest, and cause the person to be prosecuted under the provisions of applicable law, the complaint to be signed by the presiding officer.”[So, since the same rules of decorum that apply to the council members ahve been applied to the public, and since the council members must obey any and all orders of the presiding officer, this means that the sergeant at arms must arrest anyone who disobeys any order of the Mayor under arrest — like the order to stop clapping, even though such applause did not and could not actually disrupt the meeting.

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