OccupyMaine to file lawsuit against Portland Friday

John Branson, the attorney representing OccupyMaine, told the Bangor Daily News today he plans to file a lawsuit against the city of Portland Friday. The filing has been expected since the City Council on Dec. 7 voted 8-1 against granting the group’s official petition request to be allowed to remain camped in Lincoln Park.

Branson said the city, in the meantime, “as agreed to maintain the status quo until the court rules on our request for a preliminary injunction, which will be part of Friday’s filing.”

OccupyMaine members, whose tent community has been set up in the park since early October, have long argued the city has no right to require them to move because they’re exercising First Amendment rights of assembly.

The city councilors last week largely agreed that the demonstrators have the right to publicly protest corporate influence on government and the increasing consolidation of wealth in America, but they argued the group is effectively blocking wider access to the park and creating safety hazards with a non-licensed food preparation area and unpredictable heat sources.

Branson’s efforts to respond to those concerns with an amended petition before the council meeting did not satisfy the councilors, if the panel’s vote is any indication. In the aftermath of the council meeting, City Manager Mark Rees wrote a letter to OccupyMaine saying the group must indicate to the city its response by 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, and further that the city would give the protesters 48 hours notice if it plans to “take action … to remove any structures or any of the members.”

In hindsight, the council’s three options on Dec. 7 — approve the request, deny the request outright, or table the request to allow for more negotiations — in all likelihood were routes to the same ending.

City councilors at the time pledged to continue dialogue with OccupyMaine and not to call for the use of force, at least in the short term, to remove the demonstrators even while denying the request. They also largely said they would seek to fine tune the terms of the group’s request even if they approved it. And tabling the issue would have meant that the city would continue talks with the group to find a solution both parties could live with.

So in all three cases, the result is in a general sense the same: The two parties hash out their differences while the police stay on the sidelines [outside of the occasional arrests at the location]. In denying the request, the council mostly just ensured that the two parties would be hashing out their differences in court, as opposed to across a less formal negotiating table.

City attorney Gary Wood told the City Council on Monday during its workshop that he feels the city is on strong legal footing after U.S. District Judge Nancy Torreson last week denied a motion by Occupy Augusta members that would have allowed them to camp out across from the State House without getting a permit to do so.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.