Calif. city wins free-speech case over Nazi salute
SAN JOSE Calif. — A federal jury determined yesterday that the rights of a critic of the Santa Cruz City Council were not violated when he was ejected from a city council meeting for giving a Nazi salute.
Jurors found no violations of Robert Norse’s First and Fourth Amendment rights when he was thrown out of the 2002 meeting, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.
Norse, who made the salute after the council stopped a woman from speaking, said it was in protest of the mayor’s cutting off the speaker. But during 10 years of legal battles, the city argued the salute was part of an organized effort to disrupt the meeting.
The trial came after a judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2007 and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. But an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed to rehear the case, and later decided to reinstate the lawsuit, ruling that U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose needed to hear more evidence.
Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone said the jury’s decision vindicated the city, which argued that Norse was ejected for interrupting the meeting by trying to elicit a response from council members after a public-comment period had passed.
The jury’s decision means the city will not have to pay damages or attorney’s fees to Norse, which could have cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Norse’s attorney, David Beauvais, said he would file a motion for a new trial.