Judge Affirms Rights of Occupy Trenton Protesters

A Superior Court judge has affirmed the free speech rights of Occupy Trenton protesters and has ordered the state to return all of the food, medical supplies, computers and other property that it confiscated last month.

“This is a victory in our efforts to secure full free rights for Occupy Trenton,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “The state cannot arbitrarily create restrictive policies just because it does not like how people are using a public space.”

Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Trenton granted a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing some of the “rules” issued in a letter from Raymond L. Zawacki, the Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in response to the Occupy Trenton demonstration that began in Veterans Park on Oct. 6.

Protesters will now be allowed to have their laptops, coolers, signs and other items at the park on State Street. The judge ordered the state to return all confiscated belongings to protesters by Nov. 14. The judge further confirmed that the protesters must be allowed to maintain a continuous 24-hour presence at the park, although the protestors cannot set up tents or other structures.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Occupy Trenton on Oct. 26. The lawsuit claimed the state’s imposition of previously-nonexistent restrictions on the protesters, and the seizure of their property pursuant to those restrictions, violated their rights to free speech and due process.

Judge Jacobson acknowledged Occupy Trenton’s likelihood to succeed in the case, noting that the state failed to follow proper procedures when it made up the restrictions governing the use of the park.  She explained that the Occupy Trenton demonstrators “are entitled to have restrictions on their constitutionally protected activities imposed by rulemaking and not informal action targeted at their demonstration.”

On Oct. 26, ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney Bennet Zurofsky appeared in court to ask the judge to impose a temporary restraining order to stop the state from enforcing the illegal rules. The ACLU-NJ will appear in court again on Dec. 19 for another hearing on the matter.

Occupy Trenton is also being represented by ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney David Perry Davis and ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas.

The brief and complaint in the case can be found www.aclu-nj.org.