Federal judge to accept agreement between city and DeOccupy protestors

 UPDATED 10:11 PM HST May 17, 2013
Catherine "Sugar" Russell with Attorneys
HONOLULU -

As soon as next week, federal Judge Michael Seabright is expected to accept an agreement between the city and Honolulu DeOccupy protesters that spells out how personal property placed on sidewalks can be removed by the Department of Facility Maintenance.

The stipulated agreement between DeOccupy and city attorneys was worked out in January, but will become part of the official court record after a Friday morning hearing before Seabright in U.S. District Court.

Part of the accord requires the city to continue operating a dedicated phone line at the Facility Maintenance yard in Halawa, allowing DeOccupy protesters to retrieve their tents and other personal belongings within 24 hours.

"Currently, anybody can call a dedicated phone line to be able to retrieve their stuff by the next business day," said Catherine "Sugar" Russell, a de facto spokeswoman for the DeOccupy movement. "So, the entire process of making sure that property is not being destroyed and that there is something in place is extremely important, and I was really pleased to see the judge uphold that today."

In a statement issued late Friday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he was "pleased that the court ruled the City & County of Honolulu can continue Stored Property ordinance enforcement."

Protesters claim that before the agreement was reached four months ago, they were receiving harsh treatment during raids on city sidewalks around Thomas Square Park in Kakaako.

"(They) actually started hacking through people's stuff with bolt cutters and destroying people's things, and didn't even care about what it was or what it meant to the people, or who owned it," said Christopher Smith, a longtime DeOccupy protestor. "You know, you just can't destroy people's things like that."

During Friday's hearing, city attorneys asked Seabright to dismiss a lawsuit filed by DeOccupy Honolulu in December. The lawsuit claims the city's stored property ordinance, which allows the removal of items placed on sidewalks after being tagged for 24 hours, is unconstitutional, since they believe it violates protesters' rights to free speech and due process, and protection from unreasonable searches.

"There's going to be enough substance of the complaint to continue," said DeOccupy attorney Richard Holcomb. "(Seabright) may knock out a few of our counts, but the meat of our complaint is still intact."

Although the judge allowed the DeOccupy lawsuit to proceed, Caldwell remains optimistic the entire law will eventually be upheld.

Meanwhile, Seabright also handed the city a partial victory by denying DeOccupy protesters' motion that would have temporarily halted enforcement of the stored property law until the court can rule on outstanding constitutional issues raised in the lawsuit.

City spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the city has not incurred any additional costs because of the lawsuit, since all of the legal work is being handled "in-house" by the Department of Corporation Counsel.

Two DeOccupy attorneys are working pro-bono, but said they would file a motion to have the city pay their legal fees if the lawsuit prevails. When asked, Holcomb would not divulge the current cost of the case.

Holcomb said DeOccupy protestors would not challenge a new law (Bill 7) that allows for the immediate confiscation of personal property without 24 hour notice until the city actually begins enforcement. Caldwell has said the city is the process of writing new administrative rules for the law, which was passed by the City Council last month.

Two DeOccupy attorneys are working pro-bono, but said they would file a motion to have the city to pay their legal fees if the lawsuit prevails. When asked, Holcomb would not divulge the current cost of the case.

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