SANTA CRUZ -- An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday unanimously agreed a trial judge should reconsider Robert Norse's free-speech lawsuit against the city of Santa Cruz.

Norse, a longtime City Council agitator and advocate for the rights of homeless people, claims his free speech protections were violated when he was ejected from a City Council meeting in 2002 after raising a Nazi salute. Norse was arrested for disrupting the meeting and refusing to leave, although the charges were later dropped.

Norse said he abhors the Nazis' views and only used the gesture to protest then-Mayor Christopher Krohn cutting off a speaker critical of the council. The city, which has spent more than $100,000 fighting Norse, has since argued the salute was part of an organized attempt to disrupt the meeting.

After watching a five-minute clip of the salute and arrest, a federal trial judge dismissed Norse's suit in 2007, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld that decision. But a rare en banc panel of the appeals court agreed to rehear the case in June and reinstated Norse's suit Wednesday.

The ruling said U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose should have heard more evidence after giving Norse's lawyers just two days to prepare for a hearing that would have determined whether the case would go forward. The en banc panel's ruling indicated that city officials kicked Norse out because they disliked his views.

However, the en banc panel dismissed the arresting officer, Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker, from the suit against city officials. The ruling said Baker followed proper procedures when Krohn complained Norse was disrupting the meeting and refused orders to leave.

The city's current mayor, Ryan Coonerty, said Norse was properly removed from the meeting not because of the Nazi salute, but because of the overall disturbance he caused.

"There is a pattern of disruptive behavior that is at issue here," Coonerty said. "And we hope the court in San Jose will recognize that we can't have a functioning democratic processes when you have somebody who is constantly disrupting the meeting."

Norse was pleased with the ruling, saying, "Any reasonable person looking at the video cannot conclude there was a disruption. There is an arrogance on behalf of the council in their determination to intimidate their critics. It's not about the Nazi salute. It's about the public's ability to engage in ordinary free speech behavior."

Norse, who lives in Felton and Santa Cruz, still frequently attends council meetings, calling for a repeal of the overnight camping ban and measures taken by the council in recent years against aggressive panhandling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.