August 2, 2017
The Cleveland Park District has a policy requiring people obtain permission before engaging in any “First Amendment Activity” within Cleveland parks. And, once granted permission, one must remain within a specific (often remote) designated First Amendment zone.
During a recent Edgewater Live concert (think the old Party in the Park), our client, Alison Abdul-Kareem, attempted to circulate petitions in support of an initiative to place an issue decriminalizing misdemeanor amounts of marijuana on Cleveland’s ballot this November.
Ms. Abdul-Kazeem refused to either apply for a permit, or limit herself to the free speech zone (a 15 minute walk from the area of the park hosting the concert series). Thus, park rangers, enforcing the Park District’s policy proceeded to harass our client, including at one point surrounding her standing only a few feet away from her, thus frightening off any would be petition signers. Our suit, styled Alison Abdul-Kazeem v. Board of Commissioners of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District, et al. 17-cv-01613, seeks to vindicate the right of Abdul-Kazeem, and others, to exercise their First Amendment rights throughout the public areas of public parks, without the threat of official harassment.
As first year law students learn, because initiative petitioning goes to the essence of self-government and constitutes and implicates core political speech and associational rights, “First Amendment protection for such interaction…is ‘at its zenith.’” (Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., 525 U.S. 182, 183 (1999), quoting Meyer v. Grant, 486 U. S. 414, 425 (1988)).
A Finney Law Firm attorney filed the complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, and Judge Dan A. Polster has ordered the Park District to respond by noon on Wednesday and will hold conference on the motion at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. We are pleased to see the Court acting with such speed in this matter; and are hopeful that the Court will issue the injunction, allowing our client and other petition circulators free access to Edgewater Park in time for the next concert on Thursday – the last such event before petitioning ends for this year (petitions must be turned in by next Wednesday in order to qualify for the November 2017 ballot).
Cleveland.com has an article on the lawsuit here.