Lawyer Wears KKK Hood, Swastika, Files Free Speech Complaint
The California attorney who was arrested after it was determined his KKK comment card could be a hate crime has filed two claims against the city of Los Angeles. He's demanding a little over $750,000 in damages owing to damage to his practice and to emotional distress after the arrest.
The claim of emotional distress is a rather fantastic one coming from a man who has repeatedly appeared in hearings held by the Los Angeles City Council wearing a white hood with a red swastika, all the while accosting black council members with invectives probably too indecent to reprint here.
Spindler's Raging Bile Duct
The claims arise out of an incident that took place on May 11 at a hearing held by the City Council Special Rules Committee. Spindler allegedly handed a speaker comment card to the city clerk that portrayed drawings of a man being hung from a tree, a hooded man celebrating, and a burning cross. The man depicted hanging from the tree is claimed to be Council President Herb Wesson. You can view the card for yourself, but be warned that it is quite offensive.
This sort of outlandish behavior is apparently par for the course for Mr. Spindler, who makes it a habit to show up at public hearings wearing white hoods, and gesturing sieg heils before the public.
Spindler, to the surprise of some, is a California licensed attorney who practices -- of all things -- immigration law. This is certainly counter-intuitive given this man's choice of headgear.
A Hate Crime?
Although Spindler has been arrested for the May 11 incident, no criminal charges have been made against him. Councilmember Paul Koretz represents the district in which Spindler lives and believes that the facts support the finding of a hate-crime. Danny Bakewell of the Brotherhood Crusade called the drawings outrageous. "If you paint a picture of a man hanging from a tree on a house that is a hate crime. It is no less offensive or hateful if you draw it on a piece of paper and then hand those symbols to that person," he said.
Free Speech Limitations
Obviously, there are limitations to speech, and here questions arise as to whether Spindler crossed the line here into criminality. Where does free speech end, and where does criminality begin?
As we all recall, speech fomenting criminal behavior is not protected under the Constitution and cannot be loosened by state laws. But calls to criminal behavior can mean lots of things (or more accurately, imminent lawless action -- a much looser standard). In fact, there's a reasonable argument that given the few people who saw the card at the time, this was not a hate crime. But it still was outrageous and indecent.
But this sort of thing, sadly, has been seen before. Several years ago, LA paid $215,000 to settle a lawsuit a man filed against the city after he was ejected from an RPC meeting wearing a Klan hood. It appears that in settling these gray areas, money will still have to be spent calming the waters and the prospect of looking anti-speech has made city officials squeamish.
- When Does Free Speech Become a Threat? (LA Times)
- SCOTUS Revisits Racism in Jury Selection (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
- Are You Guilty of 'Table Side Racism?' (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- What to Do in the Last Weeks of Your Bar Exam Prep (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
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