Federal Judge Finds City of Waukegan Violated the First Amendment Rights of City Protestors

December 23, 2008

CHICAGO, IL– The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Miner, Barnhill & Galland announced that yesterday a federal district court judge in Chicago reminded the City of Waukegan, Mayor Richard Hyde and Police Chief William Biang that the First Amendment is alive and well. According to MALDEF Regional Counsel Ricardo Meza “a United States District Court Judge held that the City of Waukegan violated the constitutional rights of two of the plaintiffs and sufficient evidence exists for the claims of the remaining plaintiffs to go to trial.”

This four year-old case stems from controversy over a towing ordinance put in place by the City of Waukegan in 2002, authorizing police to seize and impound vehicles and impose a $500 fine on persons driving without a license. Thereafter Latino and African American plaintiffs in this case opposed the ordinance and began protesting against it, contending that it was being enforced unfairly against minorities.

MALDEF and Miner, Barnhill & Galland filed a lawsuit in 2004 on behalf of residents of Waukegan against the City of Waukegan, Waukegan Mayor (Richard Hyde) and Waukegan Chief of Police (William Biang) alleging that the defendants violated the First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs in connection with their protest activities.

According to co-counsel Miner, Barnhill & Galland attorney Robert Libman, “In his 60-page opinion in the case of Vergara, et al v. City of Waukegan, Senior District Court Judge Milton I. Shadur found, among other things, that Waukegan Mayor Richard Hyde and the Waukegan City Council unconstitutionally prohibited Jose Zurita from speaking during the public comment period at a city council meeting in 2004 and that William Biang and the City violated the constitutional rights of Margaret Carrasco by impermissibly calculating the permit fee due for an outdoor rally based on the fact that the rally was protesting, rather than supporting, the City.” The court found that nothing “releases [Chief] Biang or Waukegan from complying with the constitutional proscription against content-based discrimination… [and] that was done in this case” by calculating Margaret Carrasco’s permit fees for an outdoor rally based on her viewpoint.

The court also denied the City’s request to throw out the claims of the seven other plaintiffs, finding there was sufficient evidence that their constitutional rights had been violated to proceed to trial.

A status conference in the case is set for December 29, 2008 at 9:00.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund