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Major First Amendment showdown at U.S. Supreme Court over '06 Riviera Beach dispute

Posted at 7:18 PM, Feb 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 18:55:10-05

A dispute at a 2006 Riviera Beach city council meeting has turned into a major free-speech showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, with implications for people across the country. 

The meeting plunged the city into a twelve-year legal battle. Contact 5 found the city has spent over a $1 million on the lawsuit so far. 

In the 2006 meeting, Riviera Beach resident Fane Lozman went up to the microphone to deliver his public comment. After a few moments, where he talked about corruption in Palm Beach County, city council member at the time, Elizabeth Wade, stopped him.

“I have the right to make my public comment,” Lozman said. 

But Wade disagreed. 

“Carry him out,” Wade told a police officer in the room. 

The video of the meeting shows the officer place handcuffs on Lozman.

“Why am I being arrested?” Lozman asked. 

Lozman was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but those charges were quickly dropped. 

The city then claimed it had probable cause to arrest Lozman for disrupting a government meeting, a misdemeanor under Florida Law. 

Lozman claims the arrest was retaliation by city council members against him. He had been a vocal opponent of the council since they had told him he couldn’t have his floating house at the marina and eventually destroyed it. 

That case went before the Supreme Court as well, and Lozman won. 

Lozman had sued the city for meeting behind closed doors and discussing legal strategy as well as what to do about him. 

Transcripts released under the public records law show Wade said the council needed to “intimidate” Lozman and make him “feel the same kind of unwarranted heat we are feeling.” 

Several First Amendment and journalism groups, like the National Press Photographers Association, representing 25 media outlets, are supporting Lozman at Tuesday’s hearing. 

The city is receiving the backing up of several state and city municipalities as well as the Trump administration. They argue, if Lozman wins, the courts will be flooded with lawsuits by people who claim the government was biased against them. 

Those on Lozman’s side argue, nothing less than the First Amendment is at stake. 

The constitutional lawyer, who helped the New York Times win the right to publish the Pentagon Papers over objections from the Nixon administration, has thrown his legal weight behind Lozman as well.

WPTV will be at the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday.