New York street artist loses lawsuit against city police

Friday, November 5, 1999

A federal jury last week dismissed claims from a New York street artist that city police violated his rights when they confiscated his paintings and arrested him in three different incidents in 1995 and 1996.

Robert Lederman, who claims to have been arrested no fewer than 40 times since 1994 for his unflattering portraits of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, sued the New York Police Department in U.S. District Court last year.

In the lawsuit, Lederman claimed that the city and the police routinely tried to silence him by arresting him and then later dropping their charges against him. Lederman said his latest arrest came last month during the opening ceremonies of the Brooklyn Museum's embattled “Sensations” exhibit.

But the jury ruled against Lederman, determining that the arrests were not politically motivated. Lederman said that he planned to appeal the decision.

City officials disputed Lederman's claims about the frequency of his arrests, but said that when police did arrest the artist, they had probable cause. In court, city attorney Jim Lemonides described Lederman as a “liar” and a “con artist” who provoked police into arresting him by stepping around barricades, inciting demonstrators and resisting officers' crowd-control efforts.

But John Upton, Lederman's attorney, told jurors that his client was a “persistent advocate. … He hasn't always been the most polite advocate.”

Lederman said that he tells participants in demonstrations to avoid blocking traffic and not to interfere with police when they are making arrests or are confiscating art.

“If holding up a sign, taking photos, making a speech critical of the NYPD or the mayor, writing leaflets or merely walking across the street with other pedestrians is now a justifiable cause for arrest, then there are no longer First Amendment rights on the streets of NYC,” he said.