Sunday, July 19, 2009

Debunking of Past SENTINEL coverage of "Nazi Salute" case

by Becky Johnson
July 18, 2009

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- Since the Santa Cruz Sentinel is the paper of record in the City of Santa Cruz, it's particularly egregious when those reporters shoddily report events or outright misreport them. Since this tendency imbues all SENTINEL writers, I tend to suspect the editorial board is the party responsible rather than any individual reporter at any time. Shanna McCord is no exception. The bias from the editorial board is to present a Chamber-of-Commerce type view of Santa Cruz, which is pro-business, pro-police, and anti-homeless.

In this article, I post the April 4, 2007 SENTINEL article in its entirety titled "Judge rules Nazi salute too disruptive for public venue. " I have imbedded my comments to voice my concerns or to add in information which the reader might not know. I did attend this hearing and took notes.

This post is based on a previous post at

FROM 2007:


Judge rules Nazi salute too disruptive for public venue

By Shanna McCord

Sentinel staff writer
April 4, 2007

SANTA CRUZ - Free speech goes only so far inside City Hall.

A federal judge has ruled that city officials had the right to eject a homeless-rights advocate from a council meeting in 2002 for giving a Nazi salute. The judge said the action was too disruptive for the venue.

BECKY: False. The Judge did not rule that the Nazi Salute is a disruption. His ruling turned on the fact that Norse had been warned previously against using a Nazi Salute in council chambers and that the chair has "wide discretion." The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had also examined the "Nazi Salute" previously, and saw no disruption. The Judge ruled that Mayor Krohn had "qualified immunity" and therefore could not be prosecuted.

SENTINEL: "You don't have the same First Amendment rights in a meeting as you do on the street," said attorney George Kovacevich, who represented the city in the five-year, $100,000 legal fray. "You have the right to attend, but you don't have the right to say whatever you want, whenever you want"

BECKY: Note that this $100,000 which John Barisone now bills the City for is not covered in the $500,000 for Barisone's contract. This case included writing a 70-page brief in response to an 8-page brief and other tactics to bill the City the maximum amount his office could possibly bill.

SENTINEL: Robert Norse sued the city for alleged violations of his civil rights under the First and Fourth amendments shortly after being arrested at a council meeting in March 2002.

BECKY: For his one and a half-second raising of his arm silently from the side of the room, Norse was handcuffed and carted off to jail. The alleged "disruption" was never prosecuted as the DA determined there was not enough evidence to press charges.

SENTINEL: Then-Mayor Christopher Krohn had called an end to the public-comment period of the meeting and instructed a woman to step away from the microphone. After twice being told to leave the microphone, the woman walked over to Norse, who raised his right arm toward council members in a Nazi salute, the way Nazi supporters saluted German dictator
Adolph Hitler during World War II.

BECKY: Krohn had earlier asked how many wanted to speak at oral communications. Activist, Susan Zeman was in the earlier group who had raised her hand. She believed she had been granted permission to speak and was shocked to walk up to the podium and have Krohn cut off oral communications right in front of her. Nor would he listen to her appeal to allow her to speak. When Krohn threatened to have her removed, Norse responded with the Nazi Salute. Note, the SENTINEL uses the word "Nazi" twice and the name "Adolph Hitler" once in the same paragraph. Norse has characterized his salute as meaning rote obedience to a fascist authority. And Norse raised his left arm.

SENTINEL: Then-Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice interrupted Krohn to ask Norse to leave the meeting, saying the salute was an insult to the "dignity of the body"

BECKY: This was content-based. No one can say that if Norse had given a "thumbs up" he would have been arrested. Offending the "dignity of the body" can happen when citizens are redressing government grievances. Norse contends that the "rules of decorum" forbid citizens from criticizing their government.

SENTINEL: Norse refused to leave and was subsequently arrested.

BECKY: The problem with Norse raising his arm to the council was not the meaning of the salute, but rather the disruption the salute caused, according to U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte, who issued the decision last week.

SENTINEL: A City Council policy states that people who "interrupt and refuse to keep quiet or take a seat when ordered to do so by the presiding officer or otherwise disrupt the proceedings of the council" may be removed from a meeting.

BECKY: It's clear from the videotapes that it was Fitzmaurice who interrupted the council meeting with his delicate sensitivities, no doubt fueled by his dislike of Robert Norse (who he has walked out on twice while speaking) and his desire to have him removed from the meeting. Attorney Kate Wells, (who McCord declined to interview) said "The Council has a practice of interrupting their own meetings and then blaming individual citizens for the disruptions they themselves caused."

SENTINEL: Norse, a council gadfly who often launches bitter attacks on the city's homeless policies, said the salute was meant as a protest to the city's refusal to deal with homeless issues.

He plans to appeal Whyte's decision to the 9th District Court of Appeals.

BECKY: No doubt this case will move forward as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals did not see the same "disruption" that Whyte did.


SENTINEL: "This is not about the Nazis and this is not about me," Norse said Tuesday. "This is about mayoral actions that involve oppression. What I'm fighting is not the Nazi salute. I'm fighting council oppression"

BECKY: Norse has been arrested four times, three times at City Council and once on the sidewalk in front of New Leaf Market. He was not prosecuted in any of these arrests, and won a settlement from the City for the New Leaf incident where he sued for false arrest. Unfortunately, The City was able to exclude any evidence of these arrests or subsequent lack of convictions from the trial.

SENTINEL: Rules limiting speech at council meetings are absolutely necessary to conduct city business, Kovacevich said.

BECKY: Norse doesn't dispute this. He contends his Nazi Salute was non-interruptive, and protected by his first amendment rights. Otherwise, it would be okay to agree with what council is doing but not to disagree. The salute happened in the time interval in which one item had ended and the next item had not yet started.

SENTINEL: Federal law also gives added protections to city officials in cases of alleged civil rights violations. City officials can mistakenly violate a person's rights and not be held liable.

"They have to make spontaneous calls and run a meeting and not be
afraid of getting sued every day," Kovacevich said.

BECKY: This was the actual ruling by Judge Ronald Whyte: that the councilmembers are immune from liability despite a pattern of false arrests. Despite rules that violate the 1st amendment and eliminate the right of the citizen to disapprove of what the council is doing.

SENTINEL: Former Mayor Scott Kennedy, serving on the council in 2002, said Norse's salute was disruptive because he was standing in the front of the room where the council and public audience could see him.

"In my view, it was not the content," Kennedy said. "It was the time and place, and it did disrupt the meeting"

BECKY: Kennedy himself was named in another incident on Jan 13, 2004 where he arbitrarily established a system of tallies for warnings, which included calling holding a sign a "disruption" or inaudible whispering in the audience a "disruption" . His "system" , under which he had Norse physically arrested, didn't even last to the next council meeting. Norse was never prosecuted for this arrest.

SENTINEL: Councilman Mike Rotkin, not on the council in March 2002, said Norse has a long history of arguing with council members and straying from the topic being discussed.

BECKY: Kovacevich did an exhaustive analysis of every time Norse has spoken at City Council since 1999. Norse was ruled "off-topic" in less than 5% of comments. Rotkin also had Norse arrested at a council meeting in June of 2005 for violating the "5-minute rule" in which Rotkin limited comments on all consent agenda items by members of the public to a total of 5 minutes, which means that members of the public have little or no time to speak on items on the agenda, despite the Brown Act assurance that they do. Norse faced charges for 16-months only to have all charges dropped a week before trial.

SENTINEL: "The entire council meeting is not a free speech forum," Rotkin said. "We go out of our way to make ourselves open and accessible to everybody. Robert needs to follow the process like everyone else, which is what the court told us"

BECKY: The court told the council they are immune from liability no matter what they do. Norse has offered to settle for his attorney fees and minor changes in the rules of decorum at City Council meetings.

Read Judge Ronald Whyte's decision at:

SENTINEL: Contact Shanna McCord at

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