Disruptive speakers at City Hall meetings could be charged with trespassing

City News Service | 4/6/2017, midnight

Gadflies who like to antagonize elected officials at public meetings and often get kicked out as a result may soon be facing criminal citations for trespassing as a result of a City Council motion passed Wednesday.

“Oftentimes we have a lot of disruptions during the meetings where we have to remove particular speakers. These are the same people over and over that come in each and every day, in every committee meeting, to disrupt the meeting in the same form and fashion,” City Councilman Mitchell Englander told City News Service.

“Lately, what they have done is continue to disrupt the meeting by yelling in from the hallway and so we need a way to be safe and secure, and so that the people that are here are safe and secure, and we can do the people’s business. It’s not an 'or,' it’s an 'and.'"

A handful of speakers at City Hall meetings are often kicked out for making noises in the audience, waving their hands or refusing to stop talking once their allotted time is up. Someone being removed from a council meeting is

a regular occurrence. Some of these same speakers have also used profane language and obscene gestures or racially offensive costumes during their speaking time.

The motion, which directs the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance, was approved with a 13-0 vote and seeks to have the speakers arrested or cited for trespassing if they disrupt the meeting and refuse to leave, which under California law can typically be charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

“We need a way to show that they have been asked to leave the facility, so we need to make sure to codify that trespass and actually charge them if need be, or at least let them know if they don’t leave it could be a trespass,” Englander said. “And right now we don’t have that without the ordinance. So this gives us another tool in our tool belt to make sure we can do the people’s business without interruption.”

Englander said the law typically requires a sign to be posted at a facility stating that if a person is asked to leave and refuses, that person can be cited for trespassing. He said council members put signs up in their district offices two years ago after the city attorney advised them they were needed for someone to be in violation of trespassing laws.

Englander said it would be up to police officers to decide if someone was violating the law and up to the city attorney if signs are needed at City Hall.

“You won’t get a trespass because you are asked to leave a meeting, but if you continue to disrupt the meeting or continue to disrupt the activities and the public activities of this building, then that could be considered a trespass,” Englander said. “It could be—it’s called a wobbler. It’s not 'you shall be arrested,' it’s 'you may be and can be.'"