A Cook County judge on Thursday tossed out the charges against nearly 100 Occupy Chicago protesters who were arrested in Grant Park last year.
Judge Thomas More Donnelly said the charges --related to a violation of curfew -- were unconstitutional because the city has in the past adjusted the park's closing time.
Donnelly's 12-page order reads, in part:
"The City’s claim that citizen safety, park maintenance and park preservation constitute the substantial governmental interests that justifies closing the park seven hours nightly fails because the City routinely closes the park for fewer than seven hours nightly, making ad hoc exceptions to the Curfew for permitted groups." .... "Because it is undisputed that the City closes Grant Park longer than necessary to serve the governments interests, the Curfew is not narrowly tailored, in violation of the First Amendment. The Curfew also violates the Illinois Constitution which provides a more vigorous right to free assembly, embracing even non-expressive assemblies."
He pointed out that throngs of people gathered in Grant Park for Barack Obama's 2008 Election Night gathering. No one was arrested that night even though the event crept into the park's closing time. The ruling means the charges against 92 protesters arrested at the October 2011 demonstration were thrown out.
Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild who represent the protesters said the ruling "sends a clear message" that the city must respect First Amendment rights.
In a statement, the NLG said many others arrested in the demonstrations have already accepted a deal with the city to resolve their cases. It's unclear if Donnelly's ruling means those agreements will need to be revisited.
City Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said the city is disappointed in the ruling and will file an appeal.
The protesters were an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement and were demonstrating against corporate greed.