Maryland Greens and Libertarians hand in signatures; petitioners harassed, one arrested at public library

[Posted by Paulie]

The Maryland Green Party submitted 14,842 signatures and the Maryland Libertarian Party submitted 13,787 signatures towards a requirement of 10,000 valid signatures. The deadline for submitting additional signatures has been extended to March 7:

The Maryland petition deadline for a party that wishes to obtain, or regain, its qualified status is not until August 2012. However, parties that were on the ballot in 2010 had been told that if they want their registered members to continue to be registered in those parties, the deadline for submitting that petition was January 7, 2011. In other words, if the Constitution, Green and Libertarian Parties want their registered members to continue to be registered in those parties, those parties had to rush their 2012 petition.

Now, however, Maryland elections officials have postponed that deadline to March 7, 2011.

Most of the signatures on the Libertarian petition were gathered by the same people who gathered most of the signatures there in 2006, including myself. At that time, we had an overall validity rate of 83% for the whole crew. If that same validity rate were to hold this time, slightly over 12,000 raw signatures would be enough to have 10,000 valid. However, a new wrinkle has been introduced by the state bureaucracy:

As the Greens explain,

This should be enough to give us 10,000 valid signatures, although the Board of Elections has been whipsawed by court decisions over the past two years that first made validation of signatures much stricter and then returned to a more reasonable standard. Litigation is ongoing so we can’t know for certain the outcome until the BOE finishes checking our signatures.

With this in mind, the Libertarians are interested in paying for an additional 1,000-1,500 signatures if the money can be raised. If readers would like to donate, you can do so online or the old fashioned way, via LP of Maryland, PO Box 176, Abingdon, MD 21009-0176. If you would like to talk it over with them first, you can contact Bob Johnston, Chair of the LP of Maryland. His phone number is 443-310-5373 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              443-310-5373      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              443-310-5373      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              443-310-5373      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              443-310-5373      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              443-310-5373      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              443-310-5373      end_of_the_skype_highlighting and his email is chair@md.lp.org. I have not heard whether the Green Party would like to collect any additional signatures.

And now, a personal account of the petitioning in Maryland:

I arrived in Maryland on November 22, following an LNC meeting in New Orleans. Andy Jacobs was there one day before me and Darryl Bonner was already there earlier working on the Green Party petition (and the Libertarian petition when it became available – the Greens started earlier). Several other people came and went for parts of the drive, but the three of us gathered the bulk of the Libertarian petitions. Darryl gathered a good chunk of the Green Party petitions and Andy and I gathered somewhat small numbers of signatures for them as well.

Although it was the same time of year, the weather was about 20 degrees colder than it was four years ago in Maryland, and we had several snow storms. Temperatures were frequently in the 20s and 30s, sometimes with strong winds. Since the vast majority of places we work are outdoors, it made it more difficult to stop people.

One of the places we worked was at public libraries.

Since we are frequently harassed in public places where the right to petition has been legally established by government employees who are not aware of the relevant court cases, I carry a folio of related legal paperwork with me when I petition.

One of them reads in part:

These constitutional rights have also been held by the US Supreme Court to allow every citizen lawfully present in a public place to engage in peaceable and orderly expression of protected speech that is not incompatible with the primary activity of the place in question, including in a library. United States vs. Grace 461 US 171 (1983) .

Not all libraries are busy enough to make petitioning worthwhile, but we found that the Howard County libraries were busy.

Andy and I petitioned without incident at two branches in Columbia for several days, and then I wanted to try another branch of the Howard County library in Ellicott City. The library had a large outside semi-circle courtyard/veranda outside its door that was raised by some steps and then further surrounded by a narrow sidewalk. I am estimating the veranda is perhaps 40 feet across. I first set up my table outside the front door on the veranda, with enough room for people to get by if they did not want to sign, and at first things were going OK.

Then, library employee Stacey Freedman told me I was not allowed to petition there. I showed her the paperwork and she told me to move to the narrow sidewalk below the steps, which I did. That seemed grossly excessive from the standpoint of not blocking the door; if anything, it was blocking the sidewalk, as opposed to the large space on top of the veranda, which left plenty of space to not block anyone. However, I was still able to talk to a fair number of people, although I was cut off from people approaching the veranda from other directions.

I was still able to get sufficient signatures, but then she came out again and said that after reviewing their regulations, we had to give them two weeks notice and I had to leave. I asked her whether their library regulations superseded federal court rulings, including the US Supreme Court, and she said they had to follow their regulations. At this point I did not want to escalate the confrontation, but Andy told her on the phone that we would be back. As we were pulling away we saw two police vehicles pull into their parking lot.

I went back to another branch, at East Columbia, and proceeded to work there. Several hours later, branch manager Suki Lee came out and said I had to have two weeks notice. I showed her the paperwork about the US Supreme Court ruling mentioned above. She asked whether I had been asked to leave at Ellicott City earlier that day. I said yes, and showed her the paperwork they gave me, which I had not noticed at the time of the original incident reads:

The library requests that outside groups wishing to distribute fliers or to engage in petition drives or advocacy activities notify the Branch Manager, or his/her designee, at least two weeks in advance. Such activities must take place outside Library buildings and be at least 20 feet from the front entrance.

I told her the reason it says “requests” and not “requires” is because of court rulings like the one I showed her, as well as Maryland cases which specifically ruled that prior notice could not be required, including a ruling involving a LaRouche group vs. the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland which I am still trying to track down (reader help would be appreciated).

She then said she would call her boss, and came back with a letter from Ann Gilligan, Deputy Executive Director of the Howard County library system which laid out the rules such as remaining 20 feet from the door, not presenting ourselves as library employees, and so on. She also said if she got any complaints she would ask me to leave.

Andy and I then worked that location and the downtown Columbia library for several whole days without incident, often in view of librarians and police officers.

On December 18, I was once again at the downtown Columbia branch and Andy went to work at the Ellicott City location.

Larry Carson at the Baltimore Sun writes about what happened next:

A Green Party operative gathering signatures at Ellicott City’s Charles E. Miller branch library to keep the group on Maryland’s 2012 election ballot was pepper-sprayed and arrested by Howard County police, who charged him with trespassing and resisting arrest.

That much about the Dec. 18 incident is not in dispute, but practically everything else is, highlighting a sore subject in Maryland, and especially in Howard County — the difficulty in mounting a successful petition drive.

Actually, that much is in dispute, since Andy is a Libertarian Party member and activist, was leading with the Libertarian Party petition, and gathered far more signatures for the Libertarian Party than for the Green Party on this drive. It is however true that for part of the time we worked in Maryland, including that day, we also had the Green Party petition. The Baltimore Sun article does not mention the Libertarian Party petition. It was picked up at Ballot Access News:

Veteran Petitioner Andy Jacobs Arrested for Petitioning Outside Public Library in Maryland

Andy Jacobs, a professional petition circulator, has been arrested for collecting signatures in front of a public library in Maryland. He was working on the Green Party’s ballot access petition at the time. Because the (Baltimore Sun) reporter talked to an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, it is obvious that the ACLU knows what happened to Jacobs. Hopefully, the ACLU will help him defend himself.

The story has also been relayed by Gregg Jocoy at Green Party Watch and at Third Party and Independent Daily.

Maryland Green Party Chairman Brian Bittner is quoted in the Baltimore Sun

Bittner took issue with being required by state law to collect signatures, then encountering resistance from public employees. “Not only are we required to do it, but we can’t do it here” seems to be a contradictory message, he said.

According to the Baltimore Sun Article,

Andrew S. Jacobs, 38, of Mission Hills, Calif., a paid signature-gatherer and political activist, said he has worked in 30 states during the past decade, including at both of Howard County’s largest libraries in Columbia, without incident. He said he was polite and within his rights while collecting signatures at the Miller branch last month, and that the library and county police were unreasonable. Police pepper-sprayed him, he said, when he pulled out his cell phone and asked to record on video police Sgt. William Walsh ordering him to leave.

“I’ve petitioned for 10 years. I’ve never been arrested before,” he said, adding that he did nothing to prompt his arrest at the library branch on Frederick Road.

According to Jacobs, a library official and two county police officers refused to listen to him, insisted he leave, and police then pepper-sprayed him. After spending more than six hours in custody, he posted $2,000 bond and was released, according to court documents. He faces a District Court trial March 4 on charges that carry a combined maximum of 3 1/2 years in jail and up to $6,000 in fines.

In other words, what prompted the arrest was not refusing to leave, which Andy agreed to do even though numerous rulings all the way up to the Supreme Court say he had a right to be there, but because he wanted to have a record of being ordered to leave.

Other incidents where petitioners were ordered to leave public property where they had a right to petition occurred on this drive at Montgomery (County Community) College and the Glen Burnie Motor Vehicle Administration.

IPR will try to schedule a blog talk radio show about these events, hopefully some time this week.

25 thoughts on “Maryland Greens and Libertarians hand in signatures; petitioners harassed, one arrested at public library

  1. paulie Post author

    http://www.theagitator.com/2011/01/16/sunday-links-49

    Reader comments include:

    Dave Krueger | January 16th, 2011 at 11:22 am

    This is only vaguely related to this, but when we consider that cops in Maryland believe they have greater privacy rights than citizens, it becomes pretty clear that government officials actually believe that they operate under a different set of rules from anyone else. I don’t think there is much doubt that they consider themselves the ruling class.

    Harvey Silverglate points out in his book, “Three Felonies a Day”, that cops can lie through their teeth to trick you into saying something that gives them a reason to prosecute you, but if you lie, you are very likely going to face prosecution for it (obstruction, lying under oath, lying while not under oath, etc). Shouldn’t the public be throwing a fit over that?

    The laws are so stacked in favor of law enforcement and prosecutors that that I can’t believe the laws regarding the video recording of cops will ever be settled in favor of citizens. Recording cops poses an immeasurable threat to their power, which relies heavily on their ability to describe events in a way that favors prosecution. Lying and cover-ups have become so second nature to cops that they probably don’t even know they’re doing it. I honestly don’t think most cops even know how much of a threat video camera are to their way of life. They will eventually, though.

    #15 | Dave Krueger | January 16th, 2011 at 11:27 am

    By the way, I think that Maryland story exemplifies how the two main parties use the law to shut out other parties. That is also a case of the ruling class shutting down any challenge to its power.

    When is the tea party, supposedly so libertarian and so fed up with the two main parties, going to demand that obstructions to third parties be eliminated? My guess? Never.

    # #40 | Joe | January 16th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Maryland seems to have a problem with the Constitution, specifically: The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one’s government, without fear of punishment or reprisals.

    Maryland also seems to have issues with the first amendment.

  2. Andy

    “Other incidents where petitioners were ordered to leave public property where they had a right to petition occurred on this drive at Montgomery (County Community) College and the Glen Burnie Motor Vehicle Administration.”

    A petition circulator was also run out of the Howard County Community College by the campus police, and another petition circulator said that they also got run off of the Howard County Community College by the campus police a few years ago.

  3. paulie Post author

    Thanks – forgot about that. BTW, you should email this article to Jones and Watson, since they wanted a write-up of what happened.

    Of course that’s not the same thing as your own write-up, which you should still send if you haven’t already, but I think it would help.

  4. Andy

    There was another court ruling in Maryland which backed up free speech activities at public venues, that is Acorn vs. the Maryland Transit Authority (or MTA). Acorn is a group that does voter registration drives and their people were being run out of Maryland transit stops by the police and MTA workers. So they sued the MTA. The ACLU of Maryland took their case and they ended up winning.

    There was also a case out of Nebraska called Groene vs. Seng which I testified in (in the form of a written deposition) that was decided in federal court. Our side (the petition circulators) won that case, and the court ruling specifically mentions libraries as being fair game for petition signature gathering.

    Given that their were two relavent court rulings out of Maryland, plus the US Supreme Court ruling mentioned above and the federal court ruling Groene vs. Seng, and also considering that the Deputy Executive Director of the Howard County library system had already acknowledged that we had a legal right to be there, I figured that this issue had already been decided in our favor.

    This is why I said that I’d wait and talk to the police. I figured that talking to them would clear things up. The police had no interest in listening to anything that I had to say or in reading the papers that I had or in even bothering to call their headquarters so they could look into anything that I had to say. These two police officers were highly unprofessional. The proper police procedure is that they are supposed to do an investigation. If these police officers had been doing their jobs properly they would have investigated what I had to say and they would have also observed me gathering signatures to see if I was actually doing anything wrong. They did not bother to do either. An attorney that I spoke to said that these police officers cleraly did not follow proper procedures.

    I clearly told them that I was going to leave (even though they had no legal or moral right to tell me that I had to do this) but I told them that I wanted to have some documentation of them telling me that I had to leave so that I could present it to an attorney if necessary. Since they did not give me anything in writing telling me that I had to leave I told them that I wanted to record them on the video camera on my cell phone telling me that I had to leave and that I would leave after that.

    It was AFTER I started trying to record them telling me that I had to leave that the police Sargent tried to rip the phone out of my hand. I held on to my phone because I did not want it to get smashed (it would have cost me over $100 to replace) and I tried to get it back in my phone case and just as I got it back in its case the police Sargent sprayed pepper spray in my eyes.

    The actions of the two police officers and the librarian were blatantly unconstitutional. They should all be fired from their jobs. I’m going to fight this charge and I’m going to pursue legal action against them.

  5. paulie Post author

    I hope you win. The actions of these people who are supposed to be public servants are outrageous, although far from uncommon.

  6. George Whitfield

    Andy and Paulie: Thank you for your persistent efforts at getting the Libertarian Party ballot qualified in Maryland. I hope you will prevail in the legal actions you plan to take.

  7. paulie Post author

    Thanks Mr. Whitfield. Just to be clear though, Andy is the one taking legal action, as he was the one arrested.

    BTW I mentioned it in the article but it was a long article and people may have missed it. LP of Maryland is looking to raise money for another 1,000 or 1,500 signatures. If anyone can shoot them a few bucks it would be appreciated.

  8. Davi Rodrigues

    Wow!
    So I am understanding that the pepper spray was deployed, not for collecting signatures, but because the collector went for a cell phone?
    If that’s the case, then the major point of contention here is that the cops told him he couldn’t record them. By that time, it’s too late to record. Once they make contact like that, the safest thing to do is to wait until next time for the recording. A guy here in Sac was shot dead because he went for a cell phone a few years ago. Not to record, but to call his relative. It’s not a good time to reach for stuff when the cops want your undivided attention.
    Now I doubt the cops should have been involved in the first place, as it sounds quite reasonable and lawful to collect signatures in a public place.

  9. Andy

    “So I am understanding that the pepper spray was deployed, not for collecting signatures, but because the collector went for a cell phone?”

    The cops already knew that I had the cell phone because I had another petition circulator (Darryl Bonner) on speaker phone and I tried to get the police to talk to him and they refused. I also told them that I wanted to record them telling me to leave before I attempted to do it because they did not provide me with any documentation telling me that I could not gather petition signatures there (note that the conviently left the word petition or any reference to it out of their reports about the incident).

    “If that’s the case, then the major point of contention here is that the cops told him he couldn’t record them.”

    The cops never told me not to record them. I announced that I was going to do it and then when I was in the process of doing it the police Sargent tried to rip the phone out of my hand. They were clearly afraid of being recorded giving me an illegal command.

  10. Davi Rodrigues

    OK. I see now.
    Cops don’t like anything…anything… in your hands when they are using their authority to..ahem…enforce the law. But once again, it’s past that point where I’d be announcing my intent to do something. You’re in a different state than I, so I can’t offer much more opinion than what I already did.

  11. Kimberly Wilder

    Oh…Paulie…So that is where you have been?
    ;)
    Anyway…
    Sorry the bad stuff happened to Andy. I wish him well in getting it resolved.
    It is very sad that the authority figures conspire in this way to never let new people have a chance. It is kind of the conspiracy of incumbency and the status quo. And, it stinks that Andy got tripped up in it.

  12. Kimberly Wilder

    Hey, Paulie,

    Please let us know if and when there is a fund set up to contribute to Andy’s legal defense.

    This is a very important battle for us to fight (and to show solidarity in). Please keep us posted and send along any action items.

    Also, this post has such a long headline (it does makes sense to tie things in with the bigger picture.) But, poor Andy probably deserves his own story and headline when there is more news.

    Peace and thanks,
    Kimberly

  13. paulie Post author

    Oh…Paulie…So that is where you have been?

    LOL. I’m pretty sure I talked to you on the phone not too long after I got up there and told you where I was.

    Plus I left a bunch of comments that had my physical location as College Park, MD on IPR.

    Please let us know if and when there is a fund set up to contribute to Andy’s legal defense.

    I suggested that to him also.

    Can he just set up a PO Box or PMB and accept personal checks, or does it have to be more complicated than that?

    Also, this post has such a long headline (it does makes sense to tie things in with the bigger picture.)

    Yeah, I know. As you can see I had a lot of posts to make yesterday. And I had a lot I didn’t even get to yet!

    If there is a new development – such as a legal defense fund – I can post that separately.

  14. Kimberly Wilder

    Paulie –

    Fixed headline/Baltimore thing.

    About the defense fund…

    I wouldn’t want to say the proper way. I haven’t done much of that. When I was falsely arrested for demonstrating, a nonprofit helped me collect the funds.

    I would guess that Andy has a lawyer or organization helping him now. So, he should probably ask them the correct way to do it.

    -KW

  15. paulie Post author

    I would guess that Andy has a lawyer or organization helping him now. So, he should probably ask them the correct way to do it.

    He has talked to ACLU attorneys a couple of times but has not made any arrangements for representation yet as far as I know. As for organization…not so much.

    I’ve never set up a legal defense fund, so I don’t know too much about it myself, as far as the mechanics of setting it up.

    Thanks for the ideas, keep them coming…

    -p

  16. Jose C.

    Question . . . How is the cop supposed to know you were reaching for a phone / camera and not a gun which then you might have used to shoot him?

  17. paulie Post author

    Read #11.

    Andy already had the phone in his hands, they arrested him when he informed them that he would be putting it into video record mode.

  18. Nicholas Sarwark

    @7 – That’s a case out of Illinois, which is a different circuit than Maryland, and only at the District Court level. Also, the ACLU brought a facial challenge (i.e. they didn’t try to record, then get arrested, but challenged the statute directly).

    Andy’s case looks like a more mixed issue of right to record and civil rights to not be harassed while exercising his First Amendment claims. Most courts would look at whether he had to leave and whether the officers were justified in pepper spraying him and not have to deal with the issue of whether he can record the cops.

    Note: IAAL, but I don’t practice in Maryland and I don’t do civil liberties work, so my opinion is just that of an interested bystander.

  19. Pingback: Green Party Watch » Blog Archive » Personal account of ballot access petitioning and harassment in public places in Maryland - America’s #1 Source for Green Party News & Views

  20. Pingback: IPR Blogtalk tomorrow (Wednesday): Brian Bittner, Andy Jacobs on Maryland ballot access petitioning and arrest | Independent Political Report

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