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Despite 'Significant Exposure' To Lawsuits, LA City Council Moves To Limit Disruptions At Meetings

A hooded man speaks during a Los Angeles City Council meeting in June 2017. (Photo courtesy Ryan Fonseca via Twitter)
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If you find yourself inspired to travel downtown to Los Angeles City Hall to witness democracy in action, you'll hear civic-minded words like "motion," "resolution" and "committee."

Chances are you'll also hear more colorful words -- like hard-core profanities and a variety of racial slurs. Welcome to the public comment period, where anyone can step up to the microphone and say pretty much anything they want, and some sure do, sometimes from the audience or after their speaking time has ended.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson (Chris Pizzello/AP)

That's not a new thing at city council and committee meetings, and L.A. is not unique in having racist, vulgar words echo in its city hall. But some councilmembers say disruptions during public meetings have increased recently, and that's why they approved new rules Tuesday aimed at limiting the behavior, arguing it will "increase public comment overall."

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The original motion, presented by Council President Herb Wesson and councilmembers Nury Martinez and Mitch Englander, passed with 14 "yes" votes and will amend council and committee rules to "curb the actions of people who chronically disrupt council and committee meetings."

In council chambers Tuesday, a couple frequent critics of city leadership used their public comment time to come out in favor of the rule change, but not for the reason you might think.

Instead, they're excited about the restrictions because they believe it opens the city up to lawsuits on First Amendment grounds. And, let's just say they're eager to pursue that option.

"Just get kicked out of public meetings and collect a check," one public speaker said before his time expired.

In the council agenda for the motion, city officials noted a "significant exposure to litigation." Despite that risk, the new rules will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019. The council's desire to limit disruptions is not surprising, given some high-profile incidents in recent years.

Wesson has been at the center of a series of episodes with one City Hall regular, even getting a restraining order against him. Frequent City Hall critic and Encino-based attorney Wayne Spindler took a plea deal last year after facing a weapons charge of illegally possessing an assault rifle. Spindler surrendered four firearms as part of his plea deal.

That charge came after he was arrested at City Hall in May 2016 for submitting a public comment card depicting a burning cross, a KKK hood, a racial slur and a person hanging from a tree. Wesson viewed the drawing as a racist threat against him and filed a restraining order.

The comment card that led to Wayne Spindler's arrest at City Hall in May 2016, with a slur covered. (Courtesy photo)

Spindler filed a federal lawsuit against the city in Jan. 2017, saying his civil rights had been violated when he was arrested. He still shows up for council and committee meetings and exchanges words with Wesson. Spindler has attended meetings wearing white hoods, at least once with a swastika on the front.

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In a committee meeting in September, he dropped several f-bombs and racial slurs, among other words, before being escorted out of the room. You can listen here at 52:20 (definitely NSFW. We recommend headphones).

It's that sort of behavior that city councilmembers are attempting to put a stop to with the new rules.

It's basically a five-step policy of increasing bans. It's written in typical convoluted cityspeak so we're attempting here explain how it works (note that "days" refer to calendar days on which a council and/or committee meeting is held):

  1. If you disrupt a council or committee meeting, you're barred from the rest of that meeting
  2. If you disrupt another council or committee meeting that same day, or within the following three days, you're banned for the rest of that day and the following day
  3. If you come back and disrupt another council or committee meeting within three days of your second ban, you are banned for three days
  4. If you come back again and disrupt another meeting within the first three days after your three-day ban, you're barred for the rest of that day and the next six days
  5. THEN, if you return and disrupt a meeting within the first three days after that six-day ban, you're banned for the rest of that day and the next six days

No word on what happens if someone were to disrupt again after all those bans. Herb Wesson's office did not reply to a request for comment.
LAist/KPCC reporter Caleigh Wells contributed to this report.

Clarification: The phrase "significant exposure to litigation" appears in the City Council agenda item for the motion, not the motion itself.

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