Hopefully, this won’t be my first and last appearance in Wired Magazine (and maybe next time they’ll even put my name in)- but, I was honored to be mentioned in my favorite magazine, Sept. 2010 issue., page 54:
My town council has banned me from attending its meetings because I criticized one of its members on Twitter. OK, OK, I called him a “fucking idiot.” Can they really do that?
It would be one thing if you’d been barred from a homeowners’ association or Rotary Club meeting—private organizations have carte blanche to bounce anyone who dares question their awesomeness. But local governments must act in accordance with a little doohickey called the First Amendment. That means they’re rarely allowed to bar people from their public forums.
The council has one shot at making its ban stick. “If they can show that the person would be very disruptive, that might work,” says David L. Hudson Jr., a scholar at the Vanderbilt University’s First Amendment Center. But unless you’ve wreaked havoc at past meetings—say, by tossing chairs or burning effigies—the council will have a tough time proving its case. The city of Dayton, Ohio, learned that lesson the hard way in 1997, after it was sued by a man who’d been kicked out of a public commission meeting for wearing a ninja mask. An appeals court ruled in favor of the ninja, finding that his menacing attire was a protected form of speech this despite the fact that everyone knows ninjas don’t talk.
Lawsuits are an expensive pain, so you should try to find a way of changing the council’s mind before resorting to the courts. Since your town elders are obviously Twitter fans, how about using the microblogging service to make them and fellow townsfolk aware that you’re in the constitutional right here? Just be polite about it—save the f-bombs for the next atrocious zoning blunder.
And then- Teri Lussier writes this: “Ha! Just reading abt @Esrati the Ninja in Wired 18.10 pg 54; OK, so YOU wouldn’t wear a ninja mask to mtg, but legally you could. Thx, David”
And to clarify the story- the city arrested me and charged me with 4 fourth-degree misdemeanors, punishable by a max fine of $250 and 30 days in jail for each (total $1.000 and 120 days in jail possible). They lost in five different court decisions over 2.5 years. Finally the city settled for $100K and most of it went to pay my legal bills.
The Dayton Daily News totally muffed the story the first time- had to re-write the second day, and never gave me credit for being right.
My detailed account is here: Esrati, the masked man
Unfortunately, even though Mike Turner lost all five cases and was embarrassed on the stand, the court of public opinion gave him the win. The city commission still meets illegally and obfuscates the process.
It’s one of the reasons I keep running- and try to keep City Hall in line on this site.