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Judge: Occupy Boise must temporarily vacate site for lawn maintenance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― "Occupy Boise" protesters must temporarily vacate the old Ada County Courthouse by Wednesday to allow state officials to assess damage to the grass where their tents have been erected since last November. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill made the decision Friday, modifying an order he gave in February that allowed tents to stay on the state-owned site. At the time, the judge concluded a law signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to evict them violated their constitutionally-protected, free-speech rights. But with his latest decision, Winmill is giving the Idaho Department of Administration up to eight weeks to assess damage to the property and begin a rehabilitation plan. Come mid-August, Winmill says Occupy Boise can return, but its adherents must allow unobstructed access for workers to water and mow.

You can read Judge Winmill's decision here. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

'Occupy Boise' must temporarily vacate courthouse
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge in Boise was the protector of free speech in February, when he allowed Occupy Boise's tents to remain on state land.

With a ruling Friday forcing them to leave temporarily, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has become the protector of lawns.

Winmill ordered Occupy Boise protesters to vacate the old Ada County Courthouse lawn by Wednesday for up to eight weeks, to allow state officials to assess damage to grass where tents have been erected since November.

The order came at the request of the Idaho Department of Administration, which oversees the old courthouse grounds. It gives the department until mid-August to assess damage to the state-owned property near the Idaho Capitol, and launch a rehabilitation plan.

After that, Occupy Boise can return, but its adherents must allow unobstructed access for workers to water and mow, as well as perform routine maintenance like aeration and fertilization.

"The Court expects that the Department of Administration will complete the rehabilitation process as quickly as possible, and give counsel suitable advance notice of when the rehabilitation will be completed so that Occupy Boise may re-erect their symbolic tent city," Winmill wrote.

With his order, Winmill modified an earlier ruling that allowed tents to stay on the site.

In February, the judge concluded a law signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter could ban people from camping at the courthouse, but he rejected the state's efforts to forcibly remove symbolic tents on grounds it violated the group's constitutionally protected, free-speech rights.

Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna hadn't read Friday's decision and declined to comment on how it would affect her agency.

"The purpose of our request to modify the injunction was to start repairing the damage that's been done, and ultimately have access to the grounds so we can maintain them properly," Luna said. "There are several large bare spots, and some areas where the grass has been ground to hard-packed dirt. Just getting in there and watering hasn't been enough."

Landscapers have estimated the cost of repairing the damage at between $5,000 and $15,000, Luna said.

Bryan Walker, a lawyer for Occupy Boise, said Friday the group was discussing Winmill's ruling and how to respond. But he thinks Luna is exaggerating repair costs.

"I don't believe anything coming out of the Department of Administration," Walker said. "A lot of that lawn is rehabilitating itself fairly rapidly."

Occupy Boise protesters arrived at the courthouse seven months ago, to protest what they viewed as greedy corporations and banks in cahoots with a corrupt U.S. government looking out for the interests of the richest Americans.

At spirited hearings during the 2012 Legislature, lawmakers passed a law seeking to oust them.

That's when Winmill intervened, ruling overnight camping and cooking could be banned but that the state couldn't just kick out the tents.

The matter at hand Friday was more mundane: Should state workers be able to take care of the grass?

"Every year the Capitol mall grounds are aerated, fertilized, mowed, and watered," Winmill wrote. "The same mowing schedule has been in place for the last five years. This latter request of Occupy Boise to vacate the grounds temporarily therefore presents a much different question than the issue presented during the February hearing."

Even before this ruling, Occupy Boise's vigil site had shrunk to a fraction of its former size. Tents are currently erected on a small patch of ground near the courthouse's west entrance.

Walker said the group wanted to allow the grass around the Idaho Fallen Soldier Memorial to rejuvenate ahead of Memorial Day, at the request of a veteran's motorcycle group. And with the tents spread out, Walker said, protesters were becoming the victims of crime on weekend nights as the weather warmed.

"We were getting drunks, substance abusers, filtering into the camp and causing problems, making threats to vigil keepers," he said. "We restricted it to more effectively manage those challenges."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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