IJ-Trained Attorney Wins NY Free Speech Case

June 1, 2004

June 2004

IJ-Trained Attorney Wins NY Free Speech Case

By Robin Brooks-Rigolosi

After a six-month battle in a New York criminal court where the City’s drive to silence artists collided with the U.S. Constitution, a New York County Criminal Court judge decisively granted a local filmmaker the same right to free speech that other media have long enjoyed.

As a non-practicing attorney taking on my first case, representing my client, John Fucile, was a long and emotional journey. John wasn’t a starving artist until last September, when New York City police officers arrested him for vending without a license and confiscated the DVDs on which he recorded his films and his DVD player. Never mind that the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs told him he wasn’t eligible for a permit since he wasn’t technically a vendor and artists didn’t need a permit to sell their works. He was arrested nonetheless, handcuffed and fingerprinted, and treated like a criminal. Since then he struggled to find steady work.

Incredibly, the Assistant District Attorney fought my Motion to Dismiss hard, filing a brief some 30 pages long, imploring the Court to disregard 56 years of U.S. Supreme Court rulings extending First Amendment guarantees to various types of expression—including film and entertainment.

In the end, the Court followed well-established federal court precedent, protecting not only visual artists showing their works on city streets but their right to sell their art as well. The judge agreed to craft a written decision that will arm John with a way to defend himself in case of future harassment or threat of arrest. Sadly, there’s a good chance he’ll need to wield that opinion on occasion.

Six years ago, the Institute for Justice inspired me to leave a successful career in broadcasting, go to law school and fight the good fight. IJ Founder Chip Mellor took an hour of his busy day to offer me advice on the transition. Senior IJ attorney Dana Berliner hired me as a summer law clerk in 1999. I’ve been grateful for their guidance. Now, I feel as though I’ve finally repaid that debt.

Robin Brooks-Rigolosi is a former IJ clerk and law student conference participant.

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