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Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement

On March 8, Attorney Kate Wells sent a formal demand letter to Mayor Kennedy that he retract a libelous statement he made, claiming Robert Norse had been "successfully prosecuted" for disrupting City Council (with a Nazi salute). Norse explains why he is taking this action.
>From: "Kate Wells" <lioness (at) got.net>
>To: "R Scott Kennedy" <kenncruz (at) pacbell.net>
>CC: "Robert Norse" <rnorse2 (at) hotmail.com>
>Subject: Retraction
>Date: Mon, 8 Mar 2004 12:13:09 -0800
>
>KATHLEEN E. WELLS
>Attorney at Law
>2600 Fresno Street
>Santa Cruz, California 95062
>Telephone: (831) 479-4475
>Facsimile: (831) 479-4476
>lioness (at) got.net
>
>March 8, 2004 VIA EMAIL AND U.S. MAIL
>
>R. Scott Kennedy
>Mayor, City of Santa Cruz
>809 Center Street
>Santa Cruz, CA 95060
>
>RE: Your Interview with Fish Rap live!
>Publication Date: February 11, 2004
>
>
>Dear Mr. Kennedy:
>
>It has come to my attention that in the above-referenced interview, you stated, in pertinent part "Norse is famous for being successfully
prosecuted for doing a Nazi salute ...". The true fact is that Mr. Norse was never prosecuted, nor were any charges ever brought against him, for
the gesture indicated. He was arrested and removed from the City Council Chambers, however there was no prosecution of the case by authorities.

>In fact, Mr. Norse brought an action against the City alleging violation of his First Amendment rights; said case is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

>Mr. Norse has informed me that he in fact communicated the foregoing to you previously and that you promised to retract the libelous statement.

>Since there has been no retraction to date, I am hereby making a formal request that you retract the statement immediately in a manner designed to reach the same audience who might have read the defamatory material.

>Should you refuse, I have advised Mr. Norse that he has a viable action against you for libel per se for falsely alleging that he has been convicted of a crime.
>
>Please provide me with a copy of the retraction. If I have not heard from you by March 15, 2004, Mr. Norse will take whatever action necessary to reverse the damage to his reputation caused by your statement.
>
>Very truly yours,
>Kathleen E. "Kate" Wells
>
>cc: Robert Norse



COMMENTARY BY ROBERT NORSE

The February 11th Issue of Fish Wrap Live, a UCSC newspaper, has an interview with Mayor Scott Kennedy. In it, he makes the false statement
that I was "successfully prosecuted for doing a Nazi salute."

As attorney Kate Wells points out in the letter above, I was never even charged with it (though I was handcuffed, removed from Council, and jailed--with no public objection from Kennedy, who was on the Council at the time). This false arrest (which Kennedy terms a "successful prosecution") took place on in March 2002 and was covered at the www.santacruz.indymedia.org website,
for those interested in reviewing what happened.

The point of attorney Kate Wells' letter is that for anyone, particularly a public official, to falsely accuse someone of having been convicted of a crime ("disrupting a Council meeting"--a misdemeanor) is, quite simply, libelous.

As I understand it it is a civil offense for which he can be directly and successfully sued in court, without having to prove malice, reckless
disregard of the truth, or specific damages.

Kennedy seems to be trying to diminish the message I'm trying to get across (restore civil rights to poor and homeless people) by dismissing me as a criminal. It also seems a backhanded way of justifying his own unconstitutional behavior towards me and other members of the public on January 13, 2004.

On that afternoon Kennedy himself recessed Council twice, then arrested me, for refusing to leave after he had declared that I was disruptive for walking across the room, whispering to a homeless man, and asking Mayor Kennedy a question.

This was all in the context of Kennedy's exclusion of the Sleeping Ban from the agenda, his refusal to allow a usable Oral Communications period, and his hostility towards several dozen silent peaceful protesters at City Council including writer Michael Parenti.

Indymedia covered the event for those who want to scroll back.

As with the earlier March 2002 "disrupting a meeting" arrest, charges were never filed, though I was handcuffed and removed (and so denied
my opportunity to speak at Council), then held for hours in the drunk tank. Though Fitzmaurice rather than Kennedy was the moving party in that earlier false arrrest, Kennedy took no action that indicated any kind of dissent with the repressive action taken by then-Mayor Krohn under pressure from Fitzmaurice.

Two weeks ago, Kennedy assured me in an informal encounter at City Hall that he would correct the record regarding his false and libelous statement that I have been found guilty of a criminal misdemeanor. He then threw me a Hershey's kiss and walked into the backroom. He has since declined to return phone calls on any subject. And I have not heard from him or from the writer that he has retracted and corrected his
false statement.

For those who want to get his side of the story (he has been invited to speak on my Free RAdio show but declined),Kennedy advertises open office hours 2-4 PM Monday through Thursday at City Hall. The City Council secretary says that appointments have to be made at least a day in advance. Kennedy's phone number is 420-5020.

The key issue here is not me, but the regular abuses of those in power. Kennedy violated the Brown Act by refusing public comment on agendaized items (November 2003). He has refused to reply to aBrown Act complaint correction letter (December 2003).

To discourage public speaking, he delayed agenda items by hours and hours requiring those who wanted to talk on them to return at a time uncertain or sit four or five hours of Council discussion (November 2003). He scheduled meeting times in the afternoon--apparently to discourage public participation (by Sleeping Ban protesters, then Bill of Rights Defense anti-Patriot Act activists, then Clear View Court activists (January and February 2004).
He has done it again today by scheduling an "emergency law" (with no paperwork to the community) (item 12.1 on the afternoon Council agenda) regarding Clear View Court.

On substantive issues, Kennedy is also horrible. He refuses to agenda-ize the Sleeping Ban for reform That Ban criminalizes 90% of the homeless each night.

The Downtown Permit Parking Plan Kennedy supports make parking vehicles from 12 to 6 a.m. in all non-metered downtown street areas--an $18 ticketing offense (perhaps more).

Kennedy's destruction of mobile home rent control has put an entire community at De Anza Senior Mobile Home Park and Clear View Court at risk.

Kennedy stopped a "U.S. Out of Iraq" resolution last April, and has not introduced his own--so the City has been silent on that issue.

The relevant issue here, however, is Kennedy's authoritarian conduct of City Council meetings, which involves, among other things, manipulated agendas so that important issues are heard during the day when working people cannot attend, and singling out unpopular activists for "warnings" followed by threats and/or illegal arrest, and selectively using "decorum" rules to mask censorship of content from the public.

He has also failed to agendaize issues like rent control, criminalization of the poor, gentrification of public space, and local criminalization of medical marijuana.

The writer who did the Kennedy interview in which he falsely accuses me of being convicted of a criminal disruption of City Council did a subsequent interview with me which is scheduled to come out soon in Fish Wrap Live.

I don't mind being criticized (even recklessly) in the rough and tumble of the public arena. I am a public figure. But the bald assertion that I have formally been convicted of a crime is both unfair and defamatory.

Kennedy is Mayor. His position gives him an unfair advantage--which he uses liberally to speak at length against and single out by name critics at City Council, who have no opportunity to respond to his remarks.

If they seek to reply to his verbal sneers, quips, and denunciations which they are gaveled into silence, and/or threatened with arrest. He does not even allow his discriminatory treatment to be appealed to the whole Council--which I tried to do twice on January 13th, when he orchestrated my arrest under the disappearing "disrupting a public meeting" charge.

This one-sided process is particularly pernicious when it affects more vulnerable people like Matthew, the homeless man whom Vice-Mayor Mike Rotkin publicly called a liar in late January with no response time allowed.

We need the Mayor and his Council to act more responsibly. As a City we need to know that we can speak at City Council without fear of arrest or one-sided slander or libel from those in
positions of power.

I believe I am not only defending my own rights and reputation here, but that of others who have neither the time nor the resources to do so.

Robert Norse
 
 


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Comments

Re: Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement

He'll never issue a retraction. Instead he'll let it drag on it court long enough to shake the public eye on this, then you'll win a monetary compensation for damages which they will pay with money they steal from us via coercive taxation - and then paint you as the villain for taking money that "would otherwise have gone to public services" to divide and conquer the public by playing their hunger and sympathy against you.

This is a broken system of law and government, riddled with corruption and idiocy. What few positive results it produces underweigh the price that innocent people pay for it, every day and every year.

Why do we tolerate this?

I'll tell you why. For the same reason cattle tolerate the rancher. They are in reality merely prisoners with no choice.
 

Re: Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement

Oh, come on. Are you sure this isn't just another attempt at getting yourself some more press?
 

Re: Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement

"This one-sided process is particularly pernicious when it affects more vulnerable people like Matthew, the homeless man whom Vice-Mayor Mike Rotkin publicly called a liar in late January with no response time allowed. "


I saw the meeting where Matthew went to the microphone and proceeded to say that the director of the Homeless Services Center and most of the staff were on illegal drugs. These statements were offered without any substantiation. I’m not a lawyer, but the statements sounded libelous to me, in intention if not also in law. It was clearly a personal attack, and in my opinion, a misuse of the open communications period.
Mr. Rotkin took except to the statements. He said that he knew personally of the devotion of the director and was offended by the accusations. I think he made a bad choice of words in using “Liar?. Perhaps “baseless and mean spirited? would have been better.
Keep in mind that the director, who wasn't present, also didn't have an opportunity to respond to this outrageous allegation.
I think that Matthew could have taken a different route if he was indeed serious about his charges.

Concerning Mr. Kennedy’s comments, it would appear you are owed a retraction.
 

Re: Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement

Kennedy also publically read my name along with 7 others who he claimed "disrupted" the public meeting twice. I wrote Mayor Kennedy and asked him to detail for me what I did or said that he felt he needed to issue two warnings to me for. Its been nearly a month and he has not replied.

I am not aware that holding a sign in the City Council chambers has suddenly constituted a disruption. I am not aware that walking once across the chambers silently is a disruption. Indeed, as our group was passing, City Attorney John Barisone walked with us.

Mayor Scott Kennedy is making up rules as he goes and targeting those who have been justifiably critical of his policies.

As for the Norse arrest, why is it that Robert has been twice arrested and handcuffed and taken to the County jail for "disrupting" a public meeting but the DA has never even filed the charges? Because the City has NO CASE!!!

Please remember when Bernard Klitzner, Robert Norse, and I were all charged with harassing Anna Brooks, then-mayor Tim Fitzmaurice's assistant. We were dragged thru the courts for five months, forced to spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time defending ourselves only to have the suit tossed out for lacking merit?

This misuse of authority at public expense must be stopped. Where is the BORDC on this? Where is the ACLU?
 

Remarks on Kennedy's Retraction Letter

Kennedy has retracted his false statement (which he must--it would be libel per se otherwise).

However, even as he did so, he gave the impression I was guilty of something in this March 2002 arrest. [..."He was ejected by Mayor Christopher Krohn for disruption of the Council meeting and arrested after refusing to leave the Council Chambers."]

He does not acknowledge that in this false arrest (which he okayed with his silence) I was denied my right to speak, and held in jail five hours. He does not tell the readers that I was not only never convicted of any crime, but never prosecuted, nor even charged by the D.A. The D.A. thought so little of these "charges" that he didn't even schedule one court appearance.

Rather it was through abusive use of Mayoral privilege that I was arrested in the first place. An abuse that Kennedy repeated in January of 2004 using the same charge. A charge that likewise could not stand the light of day and disappeared before any court could look at it.

Secondly, Kennedy misinforms us that I "...made a similar salute from the podium during oral communications...[and] had previously been warned by the Council for making such a gesture while others are speaking." In fact, no such distinction was ever made, either in the Council's written literature or in Mayoral intimidation of critics. In 2001, Mayor Fitzmaurice interrupted and threatened me for using the word "fuhrer" during Oral Communications.

The theory that one can make a political gesture (such as a mock-Nazi salute) only during Oral Communications, but not silently from the audience at other times was hurriedly created by the City Attorney after attorney Kate Wells took the City to court for violating my civil rights int he 2002 Krohn arrest. Kennedy's distinction is not only false, but absurd on its face. If true, it would criminalize signs being held up from the audience (hence, not as part of Oral Communications) because of their political content.

Those who have followed this recent discussion on indymedia should know that I had a broader purpose in holding Kennedy to account for his false statement in Fish Wrap Live.

Real questions have arisen about his peculiar enforcement of the "decorum" rules--as in January 2004, where he used his own variable and vague definition of "disruption" to silence critics trying to raise the issue of homeless deaths.

Attorney Kate Wells wrote Kennedy repeatedly asking for some simple guidelines that would be understandable to an ordinary person as to what constituted "intemperate, slanderous, or indecorous" speech. People had to know what it was in order to avoid being silenced, evicted, or arrested. Rather than answer in plain English, Kennedy refered her to the City Attorney from whom she heard nothing more. She then took herself down to City Council on a Tuesday to publicly ask him at oral communications in late February what the guidelines were. (This was a feat in itself, since Kennedy had taken to moving around Oral Communications from one time space to another) The Mayor still had no answer to her questions.

I have left simple messages on his voicemail seeking an answer and get no reply I ask for information regarding an item on the agenda, for instance, or the impact of one of his programs on the homeless (such as the infamous "no homeless park at night" provision in the new Permit Parking scam). I get only silence.

Others, whom he has accused of "disruption" such as Becky Johnson and Thomas Leavitt, are likewise left in limbo when they ask what they did that constituted a "disruption". how many "warnings" constitutes a "disruption", etc.

Terry Francke, of the First Amendment Foundation in Sacramento, advises that Kennedy's system of ":warnings" ("three warnings equals a disruption") is nonsense. It violates both the state and federal Constitution's free speech and freedom of assembly guarantees as well as the state's Brown (open public meetings) Act.

Either one disrupts a meeting--that is, creates sufficient tumult to stop the business of the meeting. Or one not. When Kennedy chooses to stop the business of a meeting because he doesn't like the posture, sign, speech, or carriage of a member of the community, and decides to define that as "disruptive", it is Kennedy, in fact, who is, under color of his authority, disrupting his own meeting.

A disruption is a disruption. Not a whisper, not a mock Nazi salute, not a sign held up to the camera, not walking across the room, not whispering to a person. If some member of the Council, or the public, is unable to concentrate on proceedings because of any one of these events, surely there's nothing wrong with making that concern known.

But to have the Mayor bullying critics repeatedly with newly-concocted "disruption" complaints is abuse of power, pure and simple. To threaten the public repeatedly in this manner is to deny them the right to participate meaningfully at City Council meetings.

In fact, it seems one of the only ways to get Kennedy to make a civil and serious response to citizens with whom he disagrees is to make his silence legally unpleasant (i.e. by threat of a lawsuit).

This is unfortunate. The cure for bad speech is not the courts, usually, but more speech. But Kennedy's misdeeds go beyond malicious and one-sided critiques of his opponents in forums where they cannot reply (such as City Council, where he has the power--and apparently the inclination--to falsely arrest at will with no consequences.

Insulated from the community by the police, the city staff, and his own decorum rules, Kennedy and other Council members apparently answer questions from the community only when the caprice suits them, or when compelled to do so legally.

Habitual power (Kennedy is the archtypal recycled Councilmember, now serving his 4th term) has apparently killed the Mayor's early progressivism. He is not simply content with ruling in isolation with a clique of his fellows, but must now silence the brief yelps of his critics, remove protest signs from the sight of the cameras, and herd all substantive issues onto afternoon agendas that most people can't go to (even if they were so inclined).

His false personal attacks on me are one thing. Far worse have been his capricious actions at City Council including exclusions, false arrest, repression of public comment, malicious reordering of agendas to exclude critics, interruption of speakers at the public microphone, threatening warnings founded on baseless "disruption" pretexts, hypocritical cant about "preserving democracy at Council" when what he is doing is exactly the opposite, and a slavish subservience to City Manager Dick Wilson's agenda--which sells out the City to big businesses like the Seaside Company, and out of town corporiations like MHC.

Instead of addressing legitimate concerns about the nearly complete lack of public access to City Council and the habitual staff domination of the agenda, Kennedy (and prior Mayors) have chosen to ignore, silence, and punish many who brought these issues forward in a persistent way. It will not matter who we elect, if we can't change this process.

Particularly interesting is Kennedy's failure to address the homeless issue--whether around shelter or human rights. Just as the quality of a society can be judged by the state of its prisons, the substance of a city can be seen by looking at how it treats its poorest.

Kennedy knows this. After all, he co-founded the Resource Center for Non-Violence and has claimed to be "guided by Gandhi". How gut-wrenching it must be to contradict oneself so fundamentally on issues like the Sleeping Ban and the Downtown Ordinances (where he helped pass the original Sitting Ban). He must sincerely desire to cover up this malignancy and hide it even from himself. Is this why he overreacts when people like Michael Parenti expose his phony Progressive image as Parenti did with a mild comment to him on January 13th? Does such reality contact set the stage for Kennedy's bizarre and capricious authoritarianism?

Whatever the answer, this is not the kind of behavior we need in a Mayor in a country threatened with militarism and twenty-first century fascism.

If anyone has experienced abusive or improper behavior from Kennedy (or other Council members at City Hall), please contact me at rnorse2 (at) hotmail.com. I am looking into a Brown Act lawsuit to require Kennedy to halt the practices described above.

Those who want to talk to Kennedy can call him at 420-5020. He makes regular appointments at least a day in advance M-Th 2-4 PM. Those who want to help restore a little old-fashioned democracy, can reach me at 423-4833.

Robert Norse
 

Bravo, Robert!

I saw the article in today's Sentinel: www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2004/March/17/local/stories/05local.htm

I wasn't at any of the City Council meetings mentioned, so I can't speak to the details. If I think about the Downtown rules, though, it seems that upholding the Constitution is not a City priority.

In any case I am glad that some effort was made to retract a false statement about you. People in high places resort to "branding" only when they fear that the opponent is right. This has the effect of discrediting the opponent before the discussion even starts.

For me, It's rather like Bonnie Morr of UTU, who wrote to the Sentinel saying I didn't have a job and couldn't know anything about labor struggles. Maybe she didn't notice me volunteering both days on the CUE picket line at UCSC.

Anyway, glad that your name was cleared in this case. Now, if only Mr. Rotkin would retract his remark about those "stupid" homeless people -- as quoted in the March 9th Sentinel, "There are 2,000 homeless people in Santa Cruz. The city houses about 200 of them, and only four of them would be stupid enough to sleep in a Dumpster".
 

Re: Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement

As a longtime associate of Robert Norse, I witnessed both or his arrests at City Council and was a co-defendant of his when the City Hall Koffee Klatch and Tag Team Teach-in lobbied then Mayor Fitzmaurice to end the Sleeping Ban.

Robert's "nazi" salute was from the side of the room, blocked no one's view, was not even seen by Mayor Krohn, was silent, lasted 2 seconds,and was made with the wrong hand. But more importantly, it was constitutionally protected free speech and under the right of the people to redress government grievances.

Why was Mayor Krohn in such a hurry to end oral communications anyway? The participation of the public in their own governnance is precious indeed, perhaps essential. Previous mayors would have extended oral communications to accomodate the last few speakers. Krohn threatened to have Susan Zeman "removed" if she did not step away from the podium. I think that's heavy handed. Robert's salute was timely and fitting. And I think Krohn alone would have accepted it.

But it was Councilmember Tim Fitzmaurice ---who brought us this stifeling decorum rules --- who said "Point of order! Point of order! Mr. Mayor, Robert Norse made a Nazi salute and I think he should be removed from the meeting as a consequence." It was only on Fitzmaurice's insistance, and reluctantly on the part of Mayor Krohn that he bent to Fitzmaurice's will and had Robert arrested when he wouldn't leave the chambers.

The second arrest was bizarre. Mayor Scott Kennedy had him arrested for whispering. An act that virtually everyone who has ever gone to city council meetings has done. I was standing just behind the back row of the chambers and saw Robert lean over and whisper to Doug McGrath. Kennedy called this his "third warning" which meant Kennedy got to have him arrested and sent to jail. Something smells rotten in Denmark folks. And it's found frequently at City Hall.
 

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