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Friday, 28 June 2013 09:01

San Diego Judge Puts Unprecedented Gag Order on Sidewalk Chalk Protestor Trial

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

dollars6 28The Bank of America Loves Dollars More Than JusticeAs reported in a Thursday evening, June 27, BuzzFlash at Truthout update to the chilling San Diego (SD) city attorney prosecution of Jeff Olson, an SD Judge placed an unprecedented gag order on a misdemeanor trial -- in particular muzzling Olson. But it also apparently included witnesses, the jury and others.

Judge Howard Shore also chastised the Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. Filner apparently in the judge's eyes had the temerity to call the trial of Olson a waste of time and taxpayer money. According to the San Diego Reader, Filner sent out a memorandum on June 20 that read in part:

This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children's chalk on a City sidewalk. It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.

Judge Shore, in essence, warned the mayor of San Diego, who happens to be a Democrat in a traditionally conservative city, to keep his comments to himself, and would likely have issued a gag order on the mayor if Judge Shore were able.

Let's remember that this is a case in which the SD city attorney's office (elected separately from the mayor, with an ambitious chief, Jan Goldsmith, who allegedgly takes campaign money from big banks) only chose to prosecute months and months after the alleged "crime": Olson scrawling anti-big bank messages in front of three SD Bank of America branches.  He did this, according to Olson, with a specifically chosen water soluble chalk (as in easily removed with water or by rain) called "Creatology."

A vendor describes "Creatology" chalk this way:

Kids love to play with sidewalk chalk! Decorate sidewalks, driveways and more! Perfect for hopscotch and other fun sidewalk games. Choose from three varieties-glitter, marbled and polka-dotted.

That was Olson's "weapon" of free speech against Bank of America. Olson claims that one of the BOA officials told him it cost $6000 to clean up his chalk messages. If that's the case, the BOA is as bad at managing sidewalk chalk drawing clean-up as it is the nation's money.  It should have just used a hose to water down the sidewalks (which are public), not clean them off with $20 dollar bills.

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Some may dismiss this entire case as a farce unworthy of serious mention.  But the SD city attorney's office acquiesence, months after Olson scribbled his chalk protests, to prosecute him at the request of a top local BOA security official is testament to the power of the oligarchy.

After all, no Bank of America top officials were prosecuted for any number of questionable legal activities leading to this nation's taxpayers bailing out the banks too big to fail.

And, as we noted yesterday, why is the city attorney's office of San Diego publicly prosecuting Olson? If the bank has a grievance with Olson, let them pursue it as they well.  We would love to see the depositions in such a case.

But, of course the BOA won't file a suit against Olson, because then they might have to -- depending on how the case evolved -- prove that Olson's opinions were wrong, which would mean exposing themselves to accounting for their banking practices.

That's a can of worms they certainly don't want to open, which is why the SD city attorney is doing the dirty work for the BOA.  And the case is obviously being tried by a crusty old guard Republican judge who just believes banks deserve respect, and those who don't show due deference are subject to prosecution.

SD Channel 6 posted a web article in which Olson is quoted as saying two things:

Olson says he believes the trial is about much more than his chalk messages. He accuses City Attorney Jan Goldsmith of receiving campaign money from the big banks.

“Jan Goldsmith has received campaign contributions from Bank Americorp and Merrill Lynch. I think this is mostly about Goldsmith for Mayor 2016,” he said.

And, Olson also identified the crux of the injustice being done here:

“My chalk drawings are clearly free speech and protected by the first amendment,” he told reporters outside the downtown court.

These comments were made, of course, before Judge Shore put a gag order on Olson.

Having prohibited Olson's defense lawyers from raising the issue of First Amendment rights, free speech, and other constitutional issues, justice now has duct tape over its mouth.

But the Bank of America is open for business and apparently "owns" the public sidewalks.

(Photo: Todd Mecklem)