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Attorneys strike out in Acosta case

Court refuses to hear Costa Mesa’s case against Latino activist. The case was once thrown out on a technicality.

December 18, 2008|By Joseph Serna

It’s three strikes and you’re out for Costa Mesa.

In an order handed down Thursday, the state court of appeals refused to hear Costa Mesa’s criminal case against a Latino activist related to a 2006 City Council meeting, essentially ending the matter and turning the focus to a civil trial scheduled to begin in February.

The state court of appeals denied Costa Mesa’s petition for certification — the city’s request that the court hear its criminal case against Benito Acosta.

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Acosta, who also goes by the name Coytl Tezcatlipoca, was arrested at the Jan. 3, 2006, City Council meeting, in which he protested proposed city legislation that called for police to enforce federal immigration laws. County prosecutors declined to charge him with disturbing the council meeting or resisting arrest, so city prosecutors did instead.

The criminal case was thrown out last year after the Jones & Mayer law firm attorney who filed the charges, Dan Peelman, failed to be sworn in as a city prosecutor. The city has been appealing the ruling on the law firm’s dime ever since, first through the county appellate court, where it was rejected twice, then turning to the state appeals court for an audience. The state court’s decision Thursday to not hear the case has basically shut the door on the city prosecuting Acosta.

City attorneys could appeal the decision at the county level for a third time, but there is no indication that the three-judge panel would reverse their two earlier decisions.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Acosta, declined to comment. Efforts to reach city prosecutors were unsuccessful Thursday.

The criminal case carried potential ramifications for Acosta’s federal lawsuit against city leaders. Acosta claims in his civil suit that Mayor Allan Mansoor and police officers impeded on his 1st Amendment rights, among others, when they silenced him at the City Council dais before his three minutes to speak were up and when they threw him out of the chambers. A criminal conviction saying that Acosta broke the law would have been a strong leg to stand on going into a civil case for city officials.

A federal judge ruled earlier this month that many of Acosta’s claims against city police were without merit and threw them out, but the crux of his complaint — that Mansoor and the city denied his right to free speech when they silenced him and broke for recess immediately after — remains.

A jury is scheduled to hear Acosta’s case against Costa Mesa in February.


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