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Friday August 1st 2014

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Curb Appeal?

Judge Roger Vinson’s recent ruling on Occupy Pensacola’s lawsuit against the city of Pensacola could prove costly for the protest group.

“Today, the City of Pensacola informed my clients, regular citizens of Pensacola, who have merely sought to have their constitutional rights vindicated in court, that unless they drop the appeal filed in the 11th Circuit in the Occupy case, that Mayor Hayward will be seeking attorney’s fees and costs against them,” attorney Alistair McKenzie said in a statement this afternoon. “Such actions by the city not only would detrimentally affect my clients, who have little financial resources, but would serve as a weapon for the city that it uses to chill the rights of all others in the future who seek a determination in court that their constitutional rights have been violated.”

Occupy Pensacola filed suit against the city when the administration ordered the protest movement to remove its tents from the north lawn at Pensacola City Hall. The local Occupy movement—connected to the wider Occupy Wall Street movement—had a physical presence at city hall from October 2011 until this past August.

This week, Judge Vinson issued a ruling which rejected Occupy’s argument that the tents should be considered free speech and protected under the First Amendment. McKenzie immediately appealed the ruling.

Along with Occupy Pensacola—an intentionally loose, leaderless organization—plaintiffs in the case also include three named individuals: Sara J. Beard, Michael B Kimberl and Gary Paull, Jr.

Derek Cosson, spokesman for the city, said that no such position was stated to McKenzie.

“If what he’s saying is that we were trying to make some quid pro quo, then no, absolutely that is not the case,” he said.

Cosson said that the city would be trying to recoup legal fees—which he pegged at around $100,000—regardless if Occupy appealed to the higher court.

“The taxpayers have spent quite a large amount of money defending this case,” Cosson said. “We’re gonna move for recovery of attorney fees one way or the other.”

McKenzie disputed that.

“The city attorney told me if they dropped the appeal they would not seek attorney fees,” he reiterated. “If they said otherwise that’s a totally false statement.”

McKenzie said that his clients were electing to pursue an appeal.