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Acosta gets day in court

Attorneys make their opening statements, claiming that free speech was suppressed, and that council reacted to tensions.

December 02, 2009|By Joseph Serna

Activist Benito Acosta’s freedom of speech was the latest thing that Allan Mansoor took away from a member of the Latino community, when the Costa Mesa mayor recessed that contentious City Council meeting back in January 2006, Acosta’s lawyer, Dan Stormer, said Wednesday.

Stormer argued during opening statements of his client’s federal lawsuit trial against Mansoor and the city that when Mansoor recessed the Jan. 3, 2006, meeting, as Acosta was speaking and before his three minutes at the dais were up, he violated his right to free speech.

Acosta was speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting and arguing against Mansoor’s resolution that city police begin to enforce federal immigration laws. At first he was calm and collected, but by the end of his comments that night, Acosta was calling Mansoor and Councilman Eric Bever racist, and saying they were against Latinos in the city.

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At the previous council meeting, Acosta had called council members “F------ racist pigs,” his attorneys acknowledged to the jury.

“He’s emotional, he’s upset. He starts to speak. He’s admittedly rude, admittedly insolent. Admittedly profane, admittedly angry. But what he isn’t, is in violation of the Constitution or of the laws,” Stormer said. “There’s a big difference between inappropriate and illegal.”

At the Jan. 3, 2006, council meeting, Mansoor recessed the meeting when Acosta called for his supporters to stand. The city claims he caused a disturbance, a violation of city ordinance. Acosta was ejected by police and arrested.

The city unsuccessfully pressed charges, even though the district attorney’s office had declined to file charges. While the city was pursuing criminal charges, Acosta, who also goes by the name Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, sued Costa Mesa with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This civil trial in federal court is the culmination of those brief moments more than three years ago. At the time, witnesses testified, tensions in the city were at an all-time high. The closure of a job center for day laborers was a rallying cry for the Latino community and when Mansoor brought up the idea of immigration enforcement, it reached a fever-pitch.

Going into that meeting the council knew tensions were high, Dan Spradlin, the lawyer representing Costa Mesa, said during his opening statement.

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