Another day, another report of legal drama between New York artists and City admins, it seems.
Here’s what’s going on today: as we reported just yesterday, there are currently two lawsuits — one filed at the state level, the other filed at the federal level — which will basically decide whether New York’s artist vendors have a right to freely sell their wares in the City’s parks.
It’s a convoluted topic — with significant Constitutional implications — and it’s been debated off and on in court pretty much since the Giuliani administration.
(Read all the Voice’s past coverage here.)
Anyway, today brings a THIRD lawsuit to the table.
Enter Robert Lederman, the city’s main advocate for street creatives, who’s also behind the federal filing.
Lederman runs ARTIST — Artists’ Resistance to Illegal State Tactics — and is suing Adrian Benepe (former Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner), Sarah Henry (Museum of the City of New York supervisor), the Museum, and the City, claiming that he was illegally arrested for protesting park privatization in August.
So what’s the deal with this arrest?
On Aug. 9 2011, Lederman went to a public talk at the Museum dealing with park privatization, “Whose Park is it? Financing and Administering New York’s New Parks.” He bought a ticket and reserved a seat for the event, where Benepe was speaking as a panelist.
Right after the talk started, Lederman “stood up, held up a sign protesting the privatization of parks, and told the audience that he was making a public service announcement,” according to a court filing furnished to the Voice.
As per the legal docs: “Lederman was immediately accosted by the museum’s security guard, staff, and several members of the audience as he attempted to speak out against park privatization.”
A cop went up to Lederman and asked if he wanted to step outside. He said no and she left. He claims that “at no time did she advise him that he must stop, that he was breaking any laws, or that he had to leave.”
So, he says, he kept standing to the side and holding up his sign, only making “a few occasional comments responsive to what Benepe was saying on the panel.”
Half an hour later, Benepe allegedly said: “Robert, do you want me to have you arrested?”
Lederman’s reply? “You’ve done it many times before.”
Some five minutes later, the cops came back, cuffed Lederman, and confiscated his sign.
He got booked on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges, but all the counts got resolved in his favor.
However, Lederman points out several times in the filing, the “sign was never returned.”
Lederman claims Benepe illegally singled him out.
Other talk-goers, he claims, “who jumped out of their seat, ran up to the stage, and physically accosted Lederman were not similarly charged or even approached by the police,” and “the museum security guard and an administrator asked Lederman to put down his sign. Other protestors who were holding up signs were not asked to put them down.”
He also says that Henry lied about his behavior, disputing her claims that he screamed and yelled “Bloomberg is a Liar,” “Bloomberg Sucks,” and “Fuck Bloomberg.”
Long story — and boy, is it a long story — short, Lederman says that Benepe ‘s behavior is unconstitutional, and violated his right to free speech (First Amendment), protection against unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment), and equal application of the law (Fourteenth Amendment.)
So, he’s filed suit against Benepe and the ex Parks chief’s buddies, demanding a jury trial and damages.
He also wants his sign back, according to the filing.
Reps from the City’s Law Department say they aren’t aware of the suit, telling us: “We are awaiting the legal papers and will review them upon receipt.
Check back to the Voice for updates.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.