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Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Amendment attorney and ACLU challenge ban on courthouse pamphleting

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 3:19 PM

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Lawrence Walters, the Altamonte Springs attorney perhaps most familiar with the anti-obscenity crusade of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd (“Church and State,” Feb. 24), has thrown his hat into the ring in yet another First Amendment battle.

Yesterday Walters and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in the Fifth District Court of Appeal on behalf of the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), a group which encourages jurors to intentionally vote for acquittal if they disagree with the law itself, regardless of whether the defendant had actually violated the law or not. FIJA member Mark Schmidter (also quoted in our post about the newly libertarian Copwatch group) had been regularly handing out pamphlets in front of the Orange County Courthouse downtown with this message on the cover: “What rights do you have as a juror that THE JUDGE WON’T TELL YOU?”

On Jan. 31, Ninth Judicial Circuit Court judge Belvin Perry (also quoted in this week’s Happytown for his State of the Court address) banned the practice of handing out the leaflets, arguing in his administrative order that "restriction upon expressive conduct and the dissemination of leaflets and other materials containing written information tending to influence summoned jurors as they enter the courthouse is necessary to serve the State’s compelling interest in protecting the integrity of the jury system."

Yet the ACLU and Walters disagree. From their release yesterday: “...[T]he ban violates the United States and Florida Constitutions, by censoring political speech and expressive conduct based solely on its content, with no compelling state interest, and imposes a prior restraint on that protected speech.”

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