Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Scary Strategies Open Anti-Equality Civil-Rights Trial

The crisply ironed four-point handkerchief and the wingtips belie the savage and unkempt mind of Larry Cirignano and his crew. In room 23 on the fourth floor of the new Worcester court building, his lawyer, Michael Gilleran laid some pretty heavy tracks. He pointed to where his client comes from and is headed.

Sadness: I have a conference in Boston on Wednesday and a meeting on Thursday morning that prevent me from attending the anticipated three days of argument and testimony. Fortunately for us all, Bay Windows' Ethan Jacobs should be there and deliver his reportage and analysis. Watch that space.

Background: Cirignano's arrest in December. His tortuous claims of innocence. The results of the investigation. A similar mentality from the woman who was photographed and seen by police coming around a street barrier separating pro- and anti-equality demonstrators to hit a pro-equality one in the face.

Alas, No Witnesses Yet

The first day in Worcester was motions, conferences and jury selection. The latter had no surprises, but the lawyer talk was most revealing.

Perhaps most fascinating in all these are two incredible glimpses into the minds of Cirignano and the face-hitting anti-SSM protester:
  • Each claims justification in using physical force, even in these two cases where there were police present to ask for help and law enforcement. Both have held a he/she-made-me do it. We can't escape that this is the refuge of spouse and child abusers. "If they hadn't been there or said that, I wouldn't have had to beat them." Harrumph.
  • Freedom of speech is for one side only, their side. This singularly unAmerican and unconstitutional attitude gets wrapped in Cirignano's package of having a permit to use the space. Yet, try as hard as Gilleran did to cite federal case law, including the shameful concept that the anti-SSM rally folk could use "reasonable force" to physically remove people instead of turning to the police, who were there. I think that's also called vigilantism.
Fortunately for reason, civility and legality, Justice David Despotopulos did not let the outrageous motions of Cirignano/Gilleran pass. He has a great sneer and chuckle. Without losing his cool, he repeatedly brought Gilleran back to planet Earth.

For example, Gilleran moved that everyone in the courtroom be forbidden from talking about the case during the trial. That would include the press, bloggers, others in the audience, everyone. The judge raised his eyebrows and asked if he expected an order that everyone not read newspapers or watch TV. Denied.

License to Mug

The scariest motion though centered on excluding protesters. Of course, it cited the Wacko Hurley case that wingers love to death. That is 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. It is rare to hear a First Amendment argument from an anti-gay lawyer that does not try to use and expand on this.

In this case, Gilleran held that Hurley gave the anti-SSM rally organizers an absolute right protected by the higher court and U.S. Constitution. That would be to keep anyone with differing views away from the Worcester City Hall plaza and distant from their rally, regardless of what the city permit stated.

As soon as he got into it, he began citing other case law claiming that the group could use that reasonable force to "self-help" as the expression goes. The judge again raised eyebrows and asked if there was a police detail there, which Gilleran admitted there was. The judge seems not to be a big fan of self-deputized private police forces.

He returned from a recess to allow testimony of the parks official who issued the permit, which does not license the Massachusetts Family Institute to physically remove anyone they choose.

I can see Gilleran trying (surely unsuccessfully) to appeal this absurd extension of the parade ruling to physical violence in forcing one group's freedom of speech to trump another's.

This Must Stop

This should be a seminal trial with implications far beyond central Massachusetts. For many years, particularly with the increasingly conservative Supreme Court and the past seven of POTUS who aggressively favors right wingers' rights over rights for all, the Cirignano and Gilleran sorts have pushed and nibbled. This looks like a clear instance of going to far and trying too many bluffs.

I'll do another post on some personal observations. For the legal matters, Cirignano's only hope in this jury trial is that Assistant DA Joseph Quinlan has big lapses when it comes to cross-examining witnesses. A lot of folk say they saw Cirignano run across an open courtyard to push a quiet and sincere woman to the ground. The evidence all points to his losing it in efforts to prevent her free speech. His I-had-the-right-to-because-she-didn't-belong-there defense sounds damned lame. I'm betting the jury doesn't buy it and three days from now, there is a guilty finding on both assault and battery, and civil rights violations.

We can be equally sure there will be unsuccessful appeals...followed by months and years of martyr talk. The rest of us though can say that he shouldn't have done it, and after he did, he should have taken a responsibility. That's what adults do, Larry.

Related coverage: Surprisingly, the Worcester Telegram had some good background and updates. They have been weak on this case. Look there for news on their reporter who is fighting being a witness.

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John Hosty said...

Thanks for keeping us informed on this. I'm intrigued by the fact that they are taking the hard road here. With all the evidence stacked against Larry, I would have thought he would have asked for a plea before going to trial.

This should be quite interesting.

massmarrier said...

Just so, John. It's not like in that netherworld where he operates that having a criminal record for beating up on a lefty would be a bad thing.

From following this, I just can't see how he can waltz out of this. I hope it is one of numerous such cases in which wingers have to take responsibility.

Anonymous said...

"The crisply ironed four-point handkerchief and the wingtips belie the savage and unkempt mind of Larry Cirignano and his crew. "

Can I just thank you for this opening sentence? :D