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First Amendment

LA to pay $215K to black man ejected and cited after wearing Ku Klux Klan hood to public meeting

Posted Jun 16, 2014 1:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The city of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $215,000 to a man who was kicked out of a governmental meeting in 2011 after wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and a T-shirt with a racial slur and being cited for disturbing a public assembly.

Although the case against Michael Hunt was never prosecuted, he sued over the alleged violation of his constitutional free speech rights, the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) reports.

The rules of decorum for the city's Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners prohibit "disorderly or boisterous conduct." However, the city attorney said in a written report that most witnesses felt Hunt's attire "was only mildly distracting and confusing," the newspaper recounts.

Hunt, who is black, was wearing what the Times describes as a Ku Klux Klan hood and a T-shirt with "a profanity and a racial slur used to describe African-Americans."

The settlement city lawmakers approved last week follows a significant 2009 win for Hunt in a case against the city challenging Venice Boardwalk vending restrictions, as well as a significant win earlier this year for his lawyer, Stephen Rohde, in a federal free-speech case involving two other plaintiffs kicked out of city council meetings for violating public-comment rules. Although a jury awarded the men only $1 each in the latter case, the city still had to pay Rohde's legal bill of approximately $600,000.

Councilman Bernard Parks called the new settlement a business decision. "This is one of those things where you hold your nose and vote," he told the newspaper. "If this thing had gone to a trial and [Hunt] had gotten $1, the attorneys' fees would have been larger than what we paid to settle it."

The Associated Press and the New York Daily News also have stories about the latest settlement.

In Hunt's 2009 Central District of California case, which also involved free-speech issues, he won a $264,286 jury award and his counsel was paid $340,000 in legal fees by the city, according to the Times. An opinion (PDF) from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals provides details and lists Rohde as Hunt's attorney.

Related coverage:

Los Angeles Times (sub. req.): "Winners of free-speech suit against L.A. are awarded only $2"

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