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Judge Tosses Grant Park Arrests Of Occupy Protestors As Unconstitutional

Chicago police carry off a protester at Grant Park on Oct. 23, 2011. (CBS)

Chicago police carry off a protester at Grant Park on Oct. 23, 2011. (CBS)

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Updated 09/27/12 – 4:55 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – A Cook County judge has dismissed charges against dozens of Occupy Chicago protesters who were arrested in Grant Park last October, ruling the curfew they were charged with violating is unconstitutional.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports Cook County Associate Judge Thomas More Donnelly ruled the curfew, on its face, violates the First Amendment right to free assembly. He also ruled the protesters’ arrest was a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Calling Grant Park a “quintessential public forum”, Donnelly tossed out the curfew violation charges filed against 92 Occupy Chicago demonstrators who were arrested for refusing to leave the park after two separate rallies downtown, when they camped out in the park past the 11 p.m. curfew last October.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

Attorney Thomas Durkin represented 12 University of Chicago students who were among those arrested.

“We said from the beginning, that the city was overreacting, that the city was attempting to squash First Amendment speech, that it was a dry run for [the NATO Summit]. I think we were right,” Durkin said.

He predicted the judge’s ruling would have a significant long-term impact in Chicago.

“I think the city should at least wake up now, and start paying at least as much attention to the First Amendment as it does to business owners’ property rights,” he said.

The protesters had argued – and the judge agreed – that it was unfair for police to arrest demonstrators for refusing to leave the park, after the city had allowed thousands of people to pack Grant Park into the wee hours of Election Night in 2008, for President Barack Obama’s victory party. Donnelly noted no one was arrested at the Obama rally, even though it lasted well past the park’s 11 p.m. curfew.

“It felt bad to be treated like a criminal for choosing to express my political beliefs with others,” said Andy Manos, one of the arrested protesters. “To have one’s freedom … restricted in terms of being arrested, and then being put on bond for almost a year – for speaking out against these things – feels bad. And so, of course, we’re all ecstatic. It’s a wonderful day for those who organize actively in Chicago.”

Following two Occupy Chicago marches and rallies — one on Oct. 15, 2011; the other on Oct. 23, 2011 — a total of 305 protesters were arrested when they failed to heed police instructions to leave Grant Park after the 11 p.m. curfew.

In all, 92 of those charged with violating the city’s curfew ordinance argued their arrests violated their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble.

City attorneys have argued the arrests weren’t a ban on speech and were not criminal in nature.

The city’s Law Department said they are disappointed with the judge’s decision. They planned to review the ruling and file an appeal.

According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 200 others arrested in Grant Park after the two rallies had opted to accept offers of court supervision from the city, in order to close their cases without having a conviction on their records.