By Nina Totenberg
It’s not that uncommon to hear someone complaining that politicians are corrupt. But you wouldn’t expect to be thrown in jail for it.
That’s exactly what happened to Fane Lozman at a city council meeting in Florida.
On Tuesday, that arrest got to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it could have implications not just for Lozman, but for the limits of First Amendment protections of freedom of speech.
Oddly, it’s not Lozman’s first trip to the nation’s highest court. Five years ago, the financial trader won his first case against the city of Riviera Beach when the city seized his floating home to make room for a harbor redevelopment. Today’s case could affect a lot more people.
“If I lose, then police and municipalities and the final policymakers who run the city, they’re immunized. They can just come up with any bogus misdemeanor arrest to remove you from making your public comments.”
Back in 2006, Lozman was not exactly a welcome sight for the Riviera Beach City Council. He had managed to scuttle their plans to convert the local public marina into a private one.
A transcript of a closed-door meeting in June of that year shows council members discussing tactics for dealing with Lozman, including the possibility of hiring a private investigator to turn the tables on the city’s critic.
“I think it would help to intimidate,” Council Chairperson Elizabeth Wade said, adding, “I think they should be questioned by some of our people … so they can feel the same kind of unwarranted heat.”
“Carry him out”
On Nov. 15, 2006, the dispute between Lozman and the City Council boiled over. During the public comment portion of an open meeting, Lozman decided to speak up.
“They were not in a very good mood,” he recalls. “They realized they had to abandon their entire redevelopment plan. … They were throwing in the towel that night, and that’s when I got up to make my public comment, and the chairperson was just livid looking at me.” …