The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has filed a federal lawsuit in Santa Ana against the Orange County Board of Supervisors on behalf of an Anaheim gadfly who periodically turns up in OC Weekly.
Based on the struggles of William Denis Fitzgerald to speak at public meetings due to board-imposed time limits and censorship, his--and, by extension, the public's--constitutional rights are being violated, reads the complaint.
The suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana claims that while making public comments at Board of Supervisors meetings in Santa Ana on two occasions, Fitzgerald was silenced before his allotted three minutes of speaking time were up.
This was ensured, the complaint continues, by having an Orange County sheriff's deputy escort Fitzgerald out of the chambers in the first instance and stand next to Fitzgerald before Fitzgerald left the podium the second time.
On July 27, 2010, Fitzgerald appeared during the board's public comments time on behalf of his government watchdog group Anaheim H.O.M.E. (Homeowners for Maintaining our Environment). He criticized property tax decisions by the County Appeals Board as being unfair, but when he compared the Clerk of the Board, who runs the appeals board, to a commander of a concentration camp for following the orders of her bosses, he was silenced and instructed to leave the podium by a sheriff's deputy before his allotted time had expired, according to his complaint.
"Supervisors John Moorlach and Janet Nguyen scolded Fitzgerald for being impolite, expressed their opinion that he lacked credibility, and told him they were in a position of authority over him," claims the ACLU.
Then, on Aug. 23 of this year, Fitzgerald, who was an Army infantryman for 11 years and served in Vietnam, was making the case that Vietnamese American Nguyen's 1st district needs more Latino representation. While saying Americans fought and died for the Vietnamese, and that the Vietnamese who fled to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975 were "cowards" who should have stayed to fight for their country, he was cut off before his allotted time was up by Supervisor Bill Campbell, according to the ACLU.
Campbell then threw it over to Nguyen, who berated Fitzgerald as a sheriff's deputy stood next to him. According to the ACLU, Nguyen called Fitzgerald's comments "appalling" and "wrong" and that he was "not allowed to criticize members of any communities coming to this country, this great country, for their freedom and democracy."
Fitzgerald left before Nguyen finished speaking, and his treatment by the board chilled him from appearing at another redistricting hearing on Sept. 6, according to the ACLU, which notes the board ultimately adopted 1st District boundaries that guarantee more Vietnamese American voters.
Nguyen, Campbell and Moorlach are specifically named in Fitzgerald's complaint, which seeks to change the board's "Rule 46 and Speaker Guidelines" to make it clear the board does not prohibit speakers from expressing their opinions, even if supervisors and others may disagree.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald should be familiar to longtime Weekly readers as a gadfly who has managed to get under the skin of Disney, the AQMD, Anaheim City Hall, the Anaheim Police Department and the Anaheim Fire Department.
"California Misadventure" by Jim Hill (2000): Longtime Orange County residents Curtis Sticker and Bill Fitzgerald became so incensed by what they felt was Disney's cavalier attitude toward neighborhood concerns about Westcot that they decided to do something about it. In the spring of 1992, they formed the Anaheim Homeowners for Maintaining the Environment (Anaheim HOME). Sixteen hundred members strong, the neighborhood-rights group quickly became a force for Disney to reckon with.
"Tinker Hell" by Nick Schou (2003): Two years ago, [Fitzgerald] and other members of the group [Anaheim H.O.M.E.] demanded that officials of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) study the health effects of Disney's nightly fireworks display. Above all, Fitzgerald says, his group asked AQMD to determine whether sulfur in the smoke from the fireworks--which, when combined with water vapor in the air, forms sulfuric acid--was harmful to local residents. Last month, just after Disney ended its summer fireworks season, the AQMD finally released its report on the fireworks. Agency officials declared the fireworks a "nuisance" for local residents and suggested Disney tone down the show.
"When Activists Attack" by Nick Schou (2004): Anaheim police detectives recently investigated a local anti-Disney gadfly for alleged assault against the city's Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Lutz. By law, an assault complaint can be filed against another person even if there were no physical contact. That's a crucial point because there's no evidence William Fitzgerald did anything other than hector and possibly insult Lutz during an argument about whether Fitzgerald should apologize to Lutz's secretary. (Charges were never filed.)"Anaheim Mayoral Candidates Square Off" by Matt Coker (2010):Termed-out Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle has hand picked his successor: engineering company president and former city councilman Tom Tait. But three months before Election Day, Tait is battling one of his two challengers not in the voting booth but the courthouse. On behalf of Anaheim H.O.M.E., mayoral candidate Denis Fitzgerald filed rebuttal arguments to local ballot measures J and K. Those arguments would appear in sample ballots distributed before the Nov. 2 election. But Tait considers the words Fitzgerald used a personal attack, so he dragged the matter to Orange County Superior Court for a 1:30 p.m. hearing today. Actually, a settlement may be in the offing whereby Fitzgerald would agree to remove the contentious language.
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"Election 2010" by Coker:
CITY OF ANAHEIM Mayor
*TOM TAIT 23,807 55.5%
SHIRLEY MCCRACKEN 13,375 31.2%
DENIS FITZGERALD 5,710 13.3%
J - Anaheim, Authorization Of Design-Build Procurement For Public Works Projects
Yes* 26,636 63.7%
No 15,147 36.3%
K - Anaheim, Prohibition Of Automated Traffic Enforcement Systems (Red Light Cameras)
Yes* 32,938 72.9%
No 12,266 27.1