Court: Restricting ‘insolent’ speakers is unconstitutional

A federal appellate court found Wednesday that a Costa Mesa ordinance that restricts “insolent” speakers when addressing the City Council is unconstitutional.

However, it was appropriately applied in the case of Benito Acosta, who in 2006 vocally opposed the council’s decision to work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the three-judge panel opinion from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The panel’s opinion found that the law did not specifically prohibit actual disturbances, just those that were “insolent.” The judges said removing that word could fix the ordinance.

Judge N.R. Smith dissented in part of the decision, saying the law was unconstitutional in its entirety.

Acosta had sued the city of Costa Mesa and its Police Department, saying his 1st and 4th amendment rights were violated when then-Mayor Allan Mansoor cut short his three-minute public comment opportunity.

At the time, Mansoor proposed that Costa Mesa task its police officers with enforcing federal immigration laws in the city — something Acosta opposed. Acosta opined that undocumented residents would be less inclined to report crimes against themselves out of fear of deportation.

When speaking to the council, Acosta asked audience members to stand up if they opposed the bill. The council quickly called a recess in response.

Acosta, also known as Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, had addressed Mansoor as an "[expletive] racist pig” after the recess was called.

Acosta asked why he was cut short and officers tried to remove him from the podium quietly, but he resisted, at one point wrapping his arms and legs around a pole to stop the officers from moving him.

Prior to Acosta speaking, Minuteman Project Founder Jim Gilchrist had asked those who supported the proposal to stand up.

“It’s definitely a victory for Costa Mesa residents,” said Belinda Helzer, Acosta’s attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California. “The court has definitively stated Costa Mesa cannot restrict a speaker’s comments … “

Daniel Spradlin, a lawyer who represented the city, said his client was also happy with the court’s opinion.

“From our perspective, we’re very pleased that the court affirmed the decisions in favor of all the individual defendants and determined the city’s actions were appropriate in enforcement of the ordinance,” he said.

Without “insolent,” the ordinance remains in effect without that restriction, Spradlin said.

Twitter: @lawilliams30