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Florida Gadfly Beats the Odds, Gets Back to Supreme Court

Florida resident Fane Lozman returns with a different fight against his home city
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2018 1:25 PM CST

(Newser) – Given how many cases the Supreme Court rejects, it's quite a coup if one of your own legal fights ends up being argued there. On Tuesday, Florida resident Fane Lozman had the odds-defying distinction of seeing his second case there in five years. The former commodities trader won his first—a dispute over whether the city of Riviera Beach had the right to seize his houseboat—and will learn later this year whether justices agree with him in the second, which stems from his arrest at a city council meeting back in 2006. The court heard arguments Tuesday in the case, which has First Amendment repercussions. Details:

  • The arrest: In November 2006, Lozman began complaining about corrupt politicians during the public-comments portion of a council meeting. After he refused the chairwoman's order to move on to a different subject or stop speaking, a police officer arrested him. You can see the arrest in this video. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, though the charges were later dropped, reports NPR.

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  • Free speech: Lozman maintains that his lawsuit over the arrest is a vital First Amendment issue. "If I lose, police and governments will be immunized," he tells USA Today. "They can always censure free speech." His case is supported by the ACLU and media organizations.
  • City's side: Lawyers for Riviera Beach say the officer was justified in arresting Lozman because he had probable cause to believe Lozman was going to disrupt a public meeting. The question is whether that probable cause overrides Lozman's right to free speech, per MyPalmBeachPost.
  • City's example: In court documents, the city says officers sometimes need to make snap decisions in the name of safety, and it would be dangerous to curb that ability with the threat of false-arrest lawsuits. It cites the example of an officer who stops a suspicious van by a federal building and decides to arrest the driver instead of issuing a citation, in order to provide time to determine whether he might be another Oklahoma City bomber. Lozman's lawyers say his arrest makes no sense because he was "calmly speaking" at a public forum.
  • The first case: The AP has details on Lozman's first Supreme Court case, in which he successfully argued that the city unlawfully seized his floating home to make way for waterfront development. His suit helped put the kibosh on the development and is the source of the bad blood between him and city officials.
  • Nemesis: If Lozman seems colorful, so does Elizabeth Wade, the city official who clashed with him just before the arrest. "I told him I would put my foot so far up his behind, he would think my toe was his tonsil,” she once told a reporter of Lozman, per the Washington Post. She also has called him a "rich white boy with nothing to do," and, more ominously, said in a closed-door city meeting that the city should "intimidate" him so he can "feel the same kind of unwarranted heat we are feeling.”
(Read more First Amendment stories.)

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