Fully Informed Jury Association

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FIJA in the News | 02 Mar 2011

ACLU Challenges Courthouse Ban on Protected Speech


For Release, March 2, 2011
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737 or media@aclufl.org

Daytona Beach – The ACLU of Florida today filed a legal challenge to an Administrative Order entered by Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. of the Ninth Judicial Circuit. The Order bans protected speech on the Orange County and Osceola County Courthouse complexes. The ACLU’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari asks the Fifth District Court of Appeal of Florida to review and overturn the Order.

The ACLU of Florida filed the Petition on behalf of the Fully Informed Jury Association (“FIJA”) and one of its supporters and volunteers, James Cox, who, until Judge Perry’s order, regularly spoke about jurors’ rights and distributed leaflets and other related educational materials at the Orange County Courthouse complex. Mr. Cox’s expressive conduct, and the FIJA materials he offered to members of the public focused primarily on jury nullification, sometimes referred to as “jury pardons.”

Cooperating attorney Lawrence G. Walters, of Walters Law Group, and ACLU of Florida lawyers Randall Marshall and Maria Kayanan are asking the Fifth District Court of Appeal to vacate the January 31, 2011 order that bans the distribution of materials, oral protest, education, or counseling “intended to influence summoned jurors on any matter” which is, or may be pending before that individual as a juror. Penalties for violating the order include contempt of court citations, fines, confinement, or a combination.

“The government cannot place preemptive restrictions on free speech just because it doesn’t like what is being said,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “Educating the public and jurors is not obstructing justice.”

In the Petition, the ACLU of Florida argues that the ban violates the United States and Florida Constitutions, by censoring political speech and expressive conduct based solely on its content, with no compelling state interest, and imposes a prior restraint on that protected speech.

“While a judge has the right to control his or her courtroom, that right must give way to the First Amendment right of a citizen to exercise free speech on the courthouse steps. The Order issued by Judge Perry crosses the constitutional line, and is so broad, it even prohibits lawyers from arguing their case to a jury,” said Walters. “We must protect even unpopular and controversial speech to give First Amendment rights ample breathing space they need to survive.”

FIJA is a nonpartisan public policy research and education organization established in Montana in 1989. FIJA describes its mission as educating Americans about their rights and responsibilities when serving as jurors, including their powers of “jury nullification” or “jury pardon” by which, according to FIJA, jurors are encouraged to “vote their conscience” on a case.

“Jury pardons are deeply rooted in American jurisprudence, even if they may be disfavored by judges,” Simon said. “No matter how unpopular or controversial a specific idea is, educating potential jurors about legal theory is not a crime. It’s protected speech.”

FIJA supporters have refrained from speaking about their issues or distributing their literature at the courthouse since Judge Perry’s order was issued. “The judge’s order was clearly intended to single out constitutionally-protected expression which he disagreed with – namely, ours,” stated FIJA Executive Director Iloilo Marguerite Jones. “As an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of American citizens, FIJA is pleased to have the ACLU defending our rights in the courtroom.”

A .PDF copy of the petition filed today is available here:

A .PDF copy of the Appendix to the petition is available here:

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About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.

For more information about the Fully Informed Jury Association, visit www.fija.org/aie653l.