Politicians in Riviera Beach, Florida, probably have a number of names for Fane Lozman, a prominent anti-corruption activist. It’s safe to assume that many of these names aren’t complimentary, especially since the well-heeled millionaire is in a very public kerfuffle with the city council that has major implications for the First Amendment and was heard by the Supreme Court Tuesday.
For the second time in nearly a decade, the court’s findings supported Lozman, WFAA8 reports. His arrest in 2006 and the seizure of his floating home in 2009 spurred both court cases.
“Obviously, there is no love lost between your client and the City of Riviera Beach,” Justice Samuel Alito told Lozman’s attorney Pamela Karlan.
The hearing stems from an incident in 2006 when Lozman was arrested at a city council meeting. He’d stood up during the public comments section to talk about corruption in local politics when at least a few city council members took exception to what he was saying.
So city council member Elizabeth Wade, who was presiding over the meeting, warned him that if he continued to “rant” at the meeting he would be arrested.
But Lozman stood his ground.
“I have a right to make my public comment,” he said.
Wade was beyond listening, however, and told a local policeman:
“Carry him out.”
For his trouble, Lozman was handcuffed and spent hours in jail.
This video shows what happened:
After watching a video of the incident, Justice John Roberts said he was disturbed by what went on.
“I found the video pretty chilling,” he said. “I mean, the fellow is up there for about 15 seconds, and the next thing he knows, he’s being led off in handcuffs.”
As can be expected, Lozman is not terribly popular with some people, and at one point, Wade told a reporter:
“I told him I would put my foot so far up his behind, he would think my toe was a tonsil.”
In the ensuing 11 years since that November day in 2006, there’s been dropped charges, court hearings, and a 19-days long federal trial, where Lozman served as his own attorney. There’s even been a return trip to Atlanta, to the appeals court that originally ruled against him in the houseboat case.
When the court became involved with Lozman and the city during the first round five years ago, the justices investigated Lozman’s claim that the city had used federal admiralty law to improperly seize (and destroy) his two-story houseboat to make room for a new harbor, At the time, the boat had been moored at the city marina. But the court decided the vessel was more of a house than a boat and decided against the city in a 7-2 ruling.
Then came time for round two. This time he was supported by some pretty heavy artillery, including several First Amendment organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and an armada of media organizations who contend that the case is important because it comes at a time when protests against government policies are on the rise and too many government officials are doing what they can to shut them down.
And that was one of Lozman’s concerns.
“If I lose this case, it will be a sad day for our democracy,” he said in a recent interview. “Our country will slide further into a police state. …It sounds hokey, but this is kind of a noble battle to fight.”
But the city of Riviera Beach is backed by the Trump administration, the District of Columbia and 10 states, all of whom contend that showing probable cause for an arrest, as that Atlanta jury did in Lozman’s case, should put a stop to additional claims of retaliatory arrest.
The justices were concerned that courts will be overwhelmed with lawsuits from people who’ve been arrested and are claiming the government is biased against them. This point wasn’t lost on U.S. Deputy Solicitor Jeffrey Wall.
“There are ten to 11 million arrests each year and little way to protect them from claims of retaliation,” he said. Yes, the actions taken by Riviera Beach were “troubling,” he noted “police aren’t lawyers. They arrest based on conduct.”
But had the court found against Lozman, Karlan warned:
“You are giving a green light to every vengeful city council in America to go after people when they demonstrate against abortion clinics, when they demonstrate about police, when they protest zoning decisions.”
Fortunately, the court defended Lozman, but the consensus seemed to be that laws regarding retaliatory arrests need to be tightened up to prevent courts from being flooded with these cases.
In this video from 2012, Lozman appeared on Fox and Friends.