Welcome to Beijing, Calif.

Welcome to Beijing, Calif.

Attorney argues city violated First Amendment by detaining Rose Parade protester

By Joe Piasecki 02/28/2008

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Immediately following his arrest and nearly 10-hour detention by Pasadena police on New Year's Day, actor and filmmaker Andrew Koenig told this newspaper his decision to step out in front of a controversial Rose Parade float was, if not the easiest way to express his views, the absolute right thing to do.

"I broke a law, but I didn't commit a crime," said Koenig, regarding the few seconds he had spent holding up a political sign before being hustled away by police.

On Monday, attorney and former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian will be making a similar argument in Pasadena Superior Court. He will try to convince a judge that by prosecuting Koenig - ironically, under a law Paparian helped create in 1992 - the city violated his right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Best known for his role as the colorful Richard "Boner" Stabone on TV's "Growing Pains," Koenig is also an activist for victims of military aggression in far-off Burma, which is ruled by a dictatorship propped up by the People's Republic of China.

In July, Koenig and his famous father Walter Koenig, who played Lt. Pavel Chekov in the "Star Trek" television and movie series, traveled to the region with the human rights group US Campaign for Burma to film some of the refugees who had been driven from their homes by ongoing violence.

At about the same time, numerous human rights groups and victims of Chinese government oppression began widespread protests against plans for a float celebrating China and the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Koenig, a Venice resident who was not involved in those efforts until New Year's Day, held a sign that read "China: Free Burma" and was the only demonstrator arrested along the parade route.

For giving his cause a few seconds in the spotlight, city prosecutors initially charged Koenig with interfering with a special event, a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Last month, that charge was reduced to an infraction for walking between parade entries, which carries no jail time and a maximum penalty of $100. But Paparian - who in the months leading up to the parade joined activists in decrying the float as glossing over China's dismal human rights record and oppression of political and religious dissidents - says Koenig has already paid too great a price for the incident.

"Holding Andrew the way they did, long after the parade until seven at night, that wasn't right. Andrew's freedom was taken away from him and his right to express himself as an American citizen was denied on a day when this city was supposed to celebrate what this country is all about," said Paparian.

To prove his contention that the ordinance approved by city leaders primarily to prevent spectators from throwing tortillas and spraying Silly String along the parade route is being misused to stifle free speech, Paparian has issued subpoenas to current Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and city Human Relations Commission Chair Ken Hardy.

Hardy was the primary author of a September commission report that detailed public hearings about the float controversy and recommended that City Council members send a statement against human rights abuses to Pasadena's Chinese sister city, an administrative district of Beijing called Xicheng.

Bogaard was a vocal supporter of the float who encouraged its creation, voted on the commission's recommendations and participated in negotiations with activists for a pre-parade human rights event that police ultimately rejected for security reasons. He is being asked to bring a tape recording of those negotiations, as well as a 2004 memorandum of understanding with Xicheng officials that pledged support for Chinese participation in the 2008 Rose Parade.

"After first calling upon its own Human Relations Commission for recommendations and then rejecting those recommendations, the city of Pasadena then proceeded to disallow any public protest, making Andrew Koenig's simple act of holding up a sign that read ‘China: Free Burma' in front of the Beijing Olympic float inevitable," reads part of Paparian's motion to dismiss the charge against Koenig on First Amendment grounds.

Bogaard had little to say about his subpoena, except that he had asked for advice from the city attorney but had not yet heard back from her.

Because City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris also serves as city prosecutor, this sets up an unusual situation where a witness in a case is not only essentially the prosecutor's boss, but also potentially turning to that prosecutor for advice relating to the case.

Bagneris said Monday that she was not personally involved in the case, and that two separate attorneys in her office would be handling the criminal prosecution of Koenig and offering advice to Bogaard.

Paparian received notice late Tuesday that the city was contesting Bogaard's subpoena, arguing he doesn't have the tape or documents in question.

Deputy City Prosecutor Connie Orozco, who is handling the Koenig case, could not be reached.

The ordinance preventing interference with a special event, according to documents obtained from the city, was designed to protect public safety by keeping people out of the way of animals and vehicles. Tortilla-throwing and the spraying of Silly String were also made illegal to prevent littering, property damage (Silly String adheres to vehicle surfaces and must be steam-cleaned from sidewalks and buildings) and potential slip-and-fall injuries.

An agenda report drafted to explain the ordinance before it was passed by the council, then known as the Board of City Directors, also speaks to free speech concerns.

"To reconcile the right of free speech and protest with need to provide for safety and security of parade participants and spectators ... the proposed ordinance addressing interference with an event is narrowly drawn to prohibit only those actions which threaten injury to parade spectators or participants," it reads.

Paparian, who according to city records introduced the motion to approve the ordinance, said Koenig's action posed no danger.

"It's unfortunate that the sister-city relationship did not serve its original purpose, which was to help a city in China become more like the United States. Instead, the opposite has happened. Pasadena has become more like Beijing when it comes to people expressing themselves," said Paparian. "They created this controversy and ended up managing it how China would." 

On Saturday, Koenig and Paparian are expected to speak at a fundraising event for the US Campaign for Burma that will be hosted by Anjelica Huston at the Hyatt West Hollywood hotel. For more information, visit www.uscampaignforburma.org.

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There's a traditional element of the "law" in the United States. It is called 'Do the Right Thing"

Koenig did the right thing. And Attorney and former Mayor Bill Paparian, who has tried to do
the right thing all of his life - and I know, because he was roomy at college - is also doing the
"right thing."

Aside from constitutional law, Pasadena's law, and the President of the United States ignoring Burma and instead destroying the middle east, along with wiretapping, with preposterous glee, whomever he chooses, Americans remember this and that's why Bush and his foreign policy get a great big "F(-)"

Hopefully the local judiciary will take the hint.

Doing what is "right" is the most important law - in
America and elsewhere. The Chinese may be financing our debt-but let Koenig try to run in
front of a Chinese float at the Beijing Olympics and see what happens?

- Jeff Koopersmith, Lugano and New York

posted by koopersmith on 2/29/08 @ 01:55 a.m.
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