The city attorney’s office defended Colorado Springs’ new panhandling ban on Thursday in a formal response filed in federal district court, and asked that a lawsuit against the ban be dismissed.
The suit to overturn the ban is slated for trial, since federal Judge Marcia Krieger issued a preliminary injunction against it on Dec. 18. Thursday’s filing was the first chance the city has had to respond to Krieger’s ruling.
Colorado Springs City Attorney Chris Melcher’s office challenged every part of a legal complaint by the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, including the ACLU’s description of Acacia Park as “large.”
But whether the issue will go to trial is up in the air, since Melcher has yet to confer with Mayor Steve Bach and members of the City Council. Those discussions will likely start Jan. 7, at the next public council meeting, Melcher said Thursday evening.
His office’s filing Thursday marked the next step in what could become a lengthy legal battle. Melcher estimated that the trial — if there is one — may not begin for another two months, perhaps longer.
The ACLU sued the city in late November, after the city approved a 12-square-block “no-solicitation zone” centered on downtown. The ACLU said the zone, which includes Acacia Park, violates the First Amendment rights of beggars, street performers, charitable solicitors and more.
Not so, according to Melcher’s response.
The city’s “conduct did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference or reckless disregard of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” the response reads.
Rather, the city worked carefully to make sure constitutional rights were protected, the response reads.
“The Ordinance is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest,” the response reads.
ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in an email that the city should repeal the ban and go back to the drawing board, “instead of continuing to try to defend this ill-advised ordinance.”
The city modeled its work on a Florida legal decision that Judge Krieger said was “unpersuasive.”
Said Councilman Bernie Herpin, “(The ban) was based largely on an ordinance from Fort Lauderdale, and so we were fairly confident that what we did would pass muster. So at least we thought what we were doing was constitutional.”
Though a Florida court upheld the Fort Lauderdale law, Krieger called that decision “cursory,” and said it only dealt with “a limited beach area,” and wasn’t comparable to the Colorado Springs ban.
Melcher’s office also contended that two of the eight plaintiffs on the lawsuit — Star Bar Players and The Denver Voice — didn’t have legal standing.
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