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Attorneys for Occupy L.A. protesters filed court papers Monday asking a federal judge to prevent police from clearing the City Hall camp.
The protesters contend the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck violated their civil rights by ordering the encampment dismantled.
Chief Deputy City Attorney Bill Carter said the city was prepared to defend its closure of the park and eviction of the protesters camped there. The city's defense includes a statement from the LAPD and from Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri regarding public safety and damage to the park.
It's the mayor we are very upset with for trying to usurp the powers that are not his and trying to override the very reasonable position of the city council.
Attorneys for the protesters contend the south lawn of City Hall is a traditional public forum for First Amendment activity.
"The City Hall lawn, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is one of the most sacred places for the exercise of the right to assemble and protest," said National Lawyers Guild President James Lafferty, who is named as a plaintiff in the federal court filing.
According to the court papers, the city engaged in "arbitrary and capricious action" by first "approving the Occupy L.A. camp for 56 days before suddenly revoking permission."
The protesters contend the city has made other exceptions to an ordinance that prevents people from staying in public parks after 10 p.m., including for thousands of people who camped out in Exposition Park waiting for tickets to receive free medical services.
Attorneys also argue in the petition that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's order to close the park violated a City Council resolution adopted in October expressing support for the encampment.
"There is no doubt that the council was approving camping on the City Hall lawn as part of OLA's exercise of their First Amendment Rights," according to the court filing.
Protesters contend the council's action, which officially went into effect Oct. 25, was protected by a separation of powers in the city charter and could only be amended by a new action of the City Council, not the mayor.
"It's the mayor we are very upset with for trying to usurp the powers that are not his and trying to override the very reasonable position of the city council," Lafferty said.
As of noon today, the city had not yet been served with the court papers, and no hearing date on the request had been set.
"At this point, nothing has changed. There's been no federal or state court action that would prohibit LAPD from enforcing existing law, including requesting the occupants of the encampment to clear the park after 10:30 p.m.," Carter said.
Addressing the protesters' separation-of-powers argument, Carter said, "The City Council has not taken any action to revoke, amend or stay the enforcement of any city ordinance."
Villaraigosa repeatedly praised Occupy L.A. during a series of morning-news appearances today, citing the group's success in changing the nation's political conversation to include the issue of economic disparity. However, he repeated his message that the camp is not sustainable because of long-term concerns about public health and public safety.
Lafferty scoffed at the allegations.
"There are no problems in that camp. There is no disease in that camp. Crime is not rampant in that camp," he said, adding that Occupy L.A. has helped provide clean and safe accommodations for the homeless. "If anything, we're doing what the city has not done."
Beck said it was unclear exactly when the almost two-month-old Occupy L.A. site would be closed. About half of about 500 tents had been removed as of today.
Close to 200 protesters have remained, with many expressing a willingness to be arrested.
LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said the department's "number-one objective" this morning was to keep the streets clear rather than to dismantle the encampment.
"Our goal right now is to try and keep it as peaceful as possible," Smith said.
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