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Elie Mystal

Is That Legal – Public Dancing

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

At 11:45pm on April 12, 2008, Mary Oberwetter and 17 friends engaged in silent dancing inside the Jefferson Memorial while listening to music on their headphones to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.  The Park Police arrested her when she refused their order to stop.  Oberwetter was charged with interfering with an agency function and demonstrating without a permit, which violates the National Park Service Regulations.  She responded by filing a lawsuit claiming that the police violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights.  On May 17, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the judgement that she was lawfully arrested and upheld the dismissal of her claims.

After the ruling came down, five more protesters were arrested for dancing in the Jefferson Memorial over Memorial Day weekend.  The group, led by Adam Kokesh and Edward Dickey, referred to their behavior as civil danceobedience.

Many people, including Elie Mystal from Above the Law, found the ban on dancing in memorials disgusting.  In response to the court ruling and the subsequent arrests, groups all over the world staged dancing events at memorials.  It was reported that as many as 38 countries participated in the event, including demonstrations at the Jefferson Memorial and in Phoenix, Arizona.  I could not find any reports of any arrests at any of the events.

Photo by Adam Nollmeyer

Unfortunately the problem here is the law is clear that any demonstration at a memorial won’t be tolerated.  It’s sad, but that’s what it is.  This event made me wonder, on what grounds might someone be arrested for dancing in public and what can people to prevent it?

Assault:  Assault requires intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person or placing them in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.  So as long as you keep your body at a sufficient distance from other people, I don’t think dancing constitutes assault.

Trespass: Trespass requires knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully on any real property after a reasonable request to leave by the owner or any other person having lawful control over such property, or reasonable notice prohibiting entry.  Public property, like parks containing memorials, are open to everyone so as long as no person with proper authority, dance on!

Unlawful Assembly or Riot:  These crimes require two or more people acting together with force or violence or threats of force that disturb the public peace.  As long as you and your friends can dance without threatening anyone, then it’s ok.

Disorderly Conduct:  This is a catch-all crime for general bad behavior; however, the law requires the intent to disturb the peace with unreasonable noise or violent or seriously disruptive behavior.  I’m guessing you have to be a really bad dancer to rise to the level of seriously disruptive behavior.

Obstructing a Thoroughfare: To obstruct a thoroughfare, you have to recklessly interfere with the passage of a thoroughfare by creating an unreasonable inconvenience or hazard without a legal privilege to do so.  Thus, dancing on the grass, away from the sidewalk or otherwise not interfering with other people’s ability to use the sidewalk because of your dancing appears to be permissible.

Bolin Park Rules by Ruth Carter

It’s important to note when you’re dancing at a memorial to look for any signage that indicated whether you are permitted to be on the memorial itself.  In Bolin Park in Phoenix, there are over a dozen memorials and statutes.  I was surprised that each one did not have a “Do Not Climb” plaque until someone pointed out that this notice was on the posted signs with all the rules regarding permitted behaviors in the park.

We had a great time at the dance event in Phoenix.  There was another rally going on and there was lots of police and security present.  At one point we went over to their area and started dancing on the lawn when they started to play music.  The police looked at us strangely and smiled.

Thank you to Phoenix commercial photographer Adam Nollmeyer for shooting such awesome footage at the Phoenix Dance for Liberty Flash Mob.

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No Love from ASU Law School for Current or Future Students

This past week, Elie Mystal of Above the Law wrote a biting and brilliant article about Dean Berman’s announcement that he intended to make the law school at Arizona State University less reliant on state funding.  Berman’s plan went from intriguing to horrifying when he said that he planned to do this by increasing the size of the law school student body and increasing tuition.

Seriously?!?

Mystal was on the right path when he said Berman’s plan would result in more unemployed lawyers with mountains of debt.  What he doesn’t realize is that ASU is already passed the capacity of its current facilities.  Where are they going to put another 30 people?  Furthermore, job prospects for law graduates in Arizona currently suck in this economy.  Is it ethical to flood the market with lawyers who can’t get jobs?

ASU Sign (1)
Image by John M. Quick via Flickr

I can understand Berman’s desire to be less reliant to state funding.  I’m sure some of his plans were derailed when the state budget for education was slashed.  I understand and generally respect the concept that people should pay top dollar for quality products.  However, asking students at a public university to carry this burden is asking too much.  And pissing off future alums by robbing them blind won’t help the school’s fundraising efforts.

In the National Law Journal, Berman said, “We’re expanding the scope of legal education.”  Is he referring to the cubic buttload of clinics, journals, and programs that have been added to the school since he became the dean?  Being a student at ASU Law, it seems like a new program is added every 30 seconds.  It seems like every time someone mentions the idea of starting something new at the school, Berman approves it.  I’ve been wondering where the school was getting the money to pay for all this.  I don’t know where it was coming from but now we know who will be footing the bill in the future – the students!  If the students are paying for everything, the school shouldn’t be expanding.  It should be focusing on doing a few things well – like preparing students to be actual lawyers with real lawyering skills.

Now, I take my fair share of flack for dissing my school while I’m still a student.  I’m not saying everything about it is bad – there are some awesome people at the school.  But from an administrative perspective, the school doesn’t seem to care about its students.  The most glaring proof of this are the decisions that are made to impress and entice potential students, but have limited usefulness to current students.  Have you seen the new website?  How about the new fancy desks that aren’t big enough to comfortably accommodate a laptop?  Or the classroom configurations that are a pain in the ass to navigate?  How many students were consulted before these decisions were made?  One current professor said probably zero.  There’s a lot of flash and sparkle without much utility.

You know what bothers me the most about Berman’s plan?  At a recent town hall meeting, Berman said, “”I never would have come if I knew they were going to privatize the law school.”  I know he said this because, (1) I was there, and (2) I immediately tweeted that quote out to the universe.  (Isn’t technology a bitch?)  If the dean of my law school is a walking contradiction, I’m pissed about how this institution is treating its students and severely concerned for its future.

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