IS THE COUNCIL'S JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN WILLING TO COMPROMISE FUNDAMENTAL CIVIL RIGHTS?
[from May 1998 issue]




Last month we expressed our strong approval for a bill introduced by at-large Councilmember Carol Schwartz that would permit owners or residents of property, and their guests, to drink on and within certain areas that are technically public space but which are actually the areas which the property owner considers his or her own, and which the law in effect guarantees an easement--essentially, extensions of the residence, such as the front steps, porch, bay windows, and even the extending underground vault s. (See, "The Chardonnay Lady: She May Become a Monument," April 1998, page 2.)

As Mrs. Schwartz had emphasized in her public statement, "All other provisions of law concerning public drinking [would] remain in effect. A person who becomes drunk and disorderly, or who commits another crime while intoxicated can still be arrested. The bill merely permits the quiet use and enjoyment of a section of a person's property on which they may have been permitted to build, and which they are [by law] required to maintain, though it is technically part of the public space."

Unfortunately, in our view, the chairman of the City Council's judiciary committee (and an accomplished attorney also), Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, apparently does not see the need to correct the problem which was last summer first identified by this newspaper and most recently offered a solution by Mrs. Schwartz and now other council members who have joined as co-sponsors.

Mr. Evans believes, apparently in his heart of hearts, that the solution to the kind of outrageous police tactics previously reported by us is through better training and supervision of conduct. We disagree, especially since there is no evidence that even the publicly stated policies of the police chief will necessarily be followed by officers in the field. No, rather than hoping for the enforcement of common sense, why not simply correct an archaic and unrealistic provision of the law?

But we are now even more distressed that Councilmember Evans has recently introduced something he calls the "Arrest Without Warrant by Law Enforcement Officers Amendment Act of 1998." This would allow police officers to make warrantless arrests for so-called "quality of life" misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct, defacing public and private property, drinking in "a prohibited place, and intoxication on public or private property" (emphasis supplied) under certain conditions which could be sub ject to some pretty loose interpretations.

We view this as questionable public policy since it would mean that an officer could arrest someone simply based on a private complaint that itself might be based on hearsay, rumor, or worse. As at-large Councilmember Harold Brazil rightly pointed out, a neighbor who might just happen to dislike a Chardonnay Lady look-alike who is enjoying a glass of wine in the quiet of her garden could go out and find a policeman and have her revenge--and that would all be legal!

What concerns us is that Mr. Evans, even though acknowledging such abuses could occur, seemingly brushed off the concern. We cannot agree to the idea that basic civil rights should ever yield to law enforcement expediency, especially in instances of enfor cing such amorphous concepts as "quality of life." The possibility for abuse is not hypothetical--we have documented it.

On the matter of civil rights there can never be any compromise: the state must yield to the individual, no ifs, ands ilant even at the local level we will be no better than less enlightened societies. We expect the chairman of our judiciary committee to be especially cognizant about this


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