Appeals Court Finds Costa Mesa City Council Law Barring Disruptions Unconstitutional

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Benito Acosta, who as a Latino rights activist goes by Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, won a partial victory from the state's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Friday.

The court upheld previous rulings finding Acosta was legally removed from a 2006 Costa Mesa City Council meeting, but the city's law against "disorderly, insolent, or disruptive behavior" at council meetings was deemed unconstitutional.

Acosta, a punk rocker and founding member of Colectivo Tonantizin, was bounced from two Costa Mesa City Council meetings, one after calling then-Mayor Allan Mansoor (now a state assemblyman) "a fucking pig" and another for trying to get the attention of Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project. Acosta was there to oppose Mansoor's proposals to have local police enforce federal immigration laws.

An Orange County Superior Court judge tossed criminal charges that came from Acosta being arrested, and the activist sued the city in federal court on grounds his First Amendment rights were violated when he was escorted out of the council meetings.

A federal jury sided with the city, and so did a split three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in September. Mostly. It was fine removing someone being as disruptive as Acosta was being, the majority found, but Judge Richard Tallman in his opinion advocated changing the wording of the city law on disruptions if the council wanted to save it. Judge N. R. Smith wrote in his lone dissent the law cannot be saved and is "unconstitutional in its entirety.

Agreeing to a rehearing, a Ninth Circuit panel on Friday once again legitimized Acosta's removal from the meeting, but this time it sided with Smith's interpretation that the entire Costa Mesa law is unconstitutional.

"Even though invalidation of the entire provision for over breadth is a harsh remedy, it is necessary when we cannot reconcile full protection for First Amendment liberties with the discernable intent of the enacting body," read the latest opinion.

The Orange County Register has reported the city has spent more than $562,000 defending itself and trying to prosecute Acosta for a crime. Perhaps they can take it out of some employee's promised pension.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!



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