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Eye On Boise

FRIDAY, FEB. 24, 2012, 4:01 P.M.

Judge Winmill to rule Monday on Occupy Boise eviction challenge

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, who held a hearing this afternoon on a motion to block a new law that would evict the Occupy Boise encampment from state property across from the Capitol, told attorneys for both sides that he'll issue his ruling on Monday. The state has ordered the Occupy group to vacate the site by 5 p.m. on Monday. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Alex Morrell.

Federal judge to consider blocking Occupy eviction
By ALEX MORRELL, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Occupy Boise protesters who have been camping out near the Idaho Capitol remained in limbo Friday after a federal judge said he would take the weekend to issue a decision on whether to temporarily stall a new Idaho law designed to boot them from state land.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill told attorneys during a court hearing that they'd have to wait until Monday morning for his ruling on the lawsuit brought by the protesters.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Tuesday signed the law that bans camping on state-managed land. It requires the protesters to clear the grounds of the old Ada County Courthouse, where they've been camping for nearly four months, by Monday at 5 p.m.

Lawyers for Occupy Boise contend the state's new law infringes on constitutional rights to free speech. They filed motions asking the judge to prevent the state from evicting the campers, claiming fundamental rights and freedoms are at stake.

"The plaintiffs' round-the-clock symbolic political assembly lies squarely at the intersection of two bedrock American freedoms: speech and assembly," Occupy Boise lawyer Bryan Walker wrote in court documents.

"The purpose of this vigil is primarily to express the protesters' message," Walker said during the hearing Friday.

At issue is whether that message, and how it's being expressed, is guarded by the First Amendment. Also being debated: Does a law meant to evict the protesters serve a compelling state interest?

In passing the legislation, state lawmakers claimed they are simply trying to protect state property and send a message that it's not appropriate for groups to camp out on state-managed land indefinitely.

"People wishing to assemble and protest are free under the statutes to continue to do so," state Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden argued in court documents. "They just cannot camp on state property not designated for camping."

Much like the original Occupy Wall Street movement, Boise protesters have been railing against the government, banks and income inequality since setting up tents in November. They say the location of their encampment — in plain view of the Capitol — is critical to their protest.

Despite the governor's decision to sign the bill into law this week and eviction warnings, few of the encampment's inhabitants have left the site.

"The only reason why we wanted this spot was because it forces those guys over there to see us. They had to acknowledge that we're here," Chris Sullivan, a 27-year-old Occupy Boise member, said earlier this week.

Protesters also argue the law would give the state authority to seize an estimated $10,000 worth of private property in the camp without a court hearing.

State officials say the law safeguards private property by requiring it to be securely stored by the Department of Administration for up to 90 days.

Idaho administrators have been trying to avoid the kind of messy disputes with protesters that have plagued Occupy encampments in other cities across the country.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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