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No-trespass order violates rights of 'citizen reporter'

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No-trespass order violates rights of ‘citizen reporter’

  • A protester’s free-speech lawsuit against local court official may proceed after being reinstated by a federal appellate court.

Oct. 12, 2004 — A broad no-trespassing order violates the free expression and judicial access rights of a self-styled “citizen reporter” who had parked his van in a Rutland, Vt., courthouse lot and displayed signs calling a local judge a “butcher of the Constitution,” a federal appellate court has ruled.

A three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) invalidated as overly broad the May 1999 order barring Scott Huminski from ever entering Rutland District Court property, including parking lots. Although Rutland court officials had issued the no-trespassing notice because they viewed Huminski as a potential security risk, the appeals court deemed such a response “wildly disproportionate” to any perceived threat he may have posed.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Huminski said of the Oct. 7 decision in telephone interview.

Huminski filed suit in June 1999 against state judges Nancy Corsones and M. Patricia Zimmerman, Rutland District Court Manager Karen Predom, Rutland County Sheriff R.J. Eldrick, and the sheriff’s department for violating his First Amendment rights of free speech and access to courts. The complaint sought $500,000 in damages, according to Ronnie London of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, one of Huminski’s lawyers.

The ruling was a mixed victory for Huminski. Although the court determined he had viable First Amendment claims, it nevertheless ruled that judges Corsones and Zimmerman were immune from suit. Furthermore, none of the defendants are liable for damages arising from Huminski’s right-of-access claim because prohibiting access to a courthouse was not clearly illegal at the time of the order, the appeals court concluded.

Huminski’s claim for damages for violating his right to free speech, however, may proceed against Predom. He also won back a preliminary injunction that restrains the defendants — except Corsones and Zimmerman — from issuing or enforcing no-trespassing notices against him solely in retaliation for his “public expression of his political opinions.” The court also permitted Huminski to seek a permanent order to that end.

Huminski expects the defendants to ask for a rehearing of the case, which he noted has continued for more than five years.

“I just sense there will be more of a wind[ing] road to follow,” he said.

Huminski’s protest in Rutland was sparked by what he considered unfair treatment by Judge Corsones in a 1997 criminal case charging him with obstruction of justice. Huminski, who is not a professional journalist but said he has a history of “speaking out against the government,” previously staged protests against prosecutor William Wright in Bennington, Vt.

Huminski said last week he has been “chased out” of Vermont, which he described as “probably one of the most corrupt states in the Union,” and now lives in North Carolina.

(Huminski v. Corsones, Media counsel: Robert Corn-Revere, Washington, D.C.) KK

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