The flying fingers of Mike Benedetti captured the fourth day of the Larry Cirignano trial. He and I hung around the new Worcester court house (as did Bay Windows' Ethan Jacobs).
The jury got the case about 12:25 today and deliberated for four hours before Justice David Despotopulos sent them home for the weekend. Check back at Pie and Coffee and Bay Windows for truth and knowledge about the verdict. Mike figures acquittal and I'm leaning toward guilty. More on the reasoning follows tomorrow.
For what it's ended up as — a third-rate assault and battery misdemeanor — we've put in a lot of electrons on it.
There are several levels of assault and battery. The heavy ones are with a deadly weapon, against someone over 60, sexual on a child, for intimidation and so forth. The simple version looks like Cirignano's charge. It carries a maximum penalty of 2½ years in jail or $1,000 fine. For someone like Cirignano with no violent crime convictions, it would almost surely be a fine he wouldn't even blink at (Although we're all sure he'd appeal the devil out of any penalty. So there!).
This started out with real promise of being a seminal trial. The relatively trivial A&B charge carries underlying significance, but mostly in its relationship with the pretty plain abrogation of the rights of the victim, Sarah Loy.
Such a political agon would be nothing without a tinge of irony. In this case, one group gets freedom of speech and Loy gets literally and figuratively tripped up in pursuing the same.
- The Mass Family Institute got a permit to use the public plaza by Worcester City Hall (actually two permits, one for sound) to hold a 12/16/6 VoteOnMarriage rally to urge a plebiscite on the amendment to stop same-sex marriage here.
- Cirignano was not part of the group, although he was the sympathetic head of Catholic Citizenship at the time. He came to the rally to offer the prayer. Instead, it appears he preyed.
- Loy walked near the rally group holding a pro-SSM sign to her chest, facing the rally.
- Cirignano took it upon himself to come behind her and use his forearm to push her into the crowd to get her out of the way, in effect to neutralize her message.
- Loy hit the ground (how is a matter of some dispute).
- Cirignano ended up with the A&B charge and another for violating Loy's freedom of speech.
It looked like a great test for freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, with a little gratuitous violence tossed in for spice. Instead, the defense lawyer, Michael Gilleran, convinced the judge that case law, particularly, Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, in which the U.S. Supreme Court let a South Boston Irish-American group forbid gay Irish-American groups from marching in a privately funded St. Patrick's Day parade, gave the MFI the right to roust protesters from their rally.
Before finally agreeing to a directed acquittal on the civil-rights charge, the judge brought up the salient points of vigilantism and of avoiding the police who were handy and who had been redirecting pro-SSM demonstrators for hours before the incident. His sentiments clearly were that removing a protester in the rally was the job of the police if they were present, which they were.
In addition, even after he quashed the civil-rights charge, he noted that Cirignano was not a permit holder, not part of MFI, and that the defense argument suggested that any of the anti-SSM folk at the rally would then have had a right to rough up a protester and toss her off their plaza. Gilleran continued to hold that absurd position, but the judge did not buy into that aspect. To that point though, he did accept that Loy could not claim free speech rights when use of the space temporarily belonged to the MFI.
Those are really not picayune points either. With our present repressive U.S. Supreme Court, we can likely expect more such efforts to trample the rights of protesters, particularly lefties.
Here's hoping and anticipating that the jury will agree that taking the law into his own hands in such a case earns Cirignano a conviction. Shoving anyone around because you disagree with their message or where they display it is not what we should be about.
I'll cover trial impressions, likely Sunday, but that's a rant that can't wait.
Tags: massmarrier, Massachusetts, same-sex marriage, Worcester, Cirignano, Despotopulos, Gilleran, Quinlan