The many descriptions bestowed on Fane Lozman over the years include political gadfly, relentless opponent of public corruption, and bored rich guy always spoiling for a fight.
If every town has a you-can’t-shut-me-up activist who second-guesses council members and dominates the public comments portions of meetings, few have elevated the art like Lozman. He has offered a $50,000 reward for dirt on local politicians and taunted them at a ribbon-cutting with an airplane flying overhead. “Adios,” said the banner that called the council corrupt.
So remarkable are his battles with the political leaders of this town of 35,000 people that they have drawn the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not once, but twice.
The latest rendition of Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach has grown from a ham-handed attempt to cut him off at a city council meeting into a major free-speech showdown that will have nationwide implications for citizens arrested — as Lozman was — by government officials they criticize. The court will hear arguments in the case Tuesday.
The first time Lozman and the city met at the Supreme Court, the justices reviewed Lozman’s claim that Riviera Beach had improperly used federal admiralty law to seize (and later destroy) his two-story, plywood-and-French-doors houseboat, moored at the city marina. The court ruled 7-to-2 against the city, saying Lozman’s houseboat was more house than boat.
At issue is Lozman’s arrest at a city council meeting in November 2006.
Fane Lozman’s home floating in the waters near North Bay Village, Fla., in 2014. (J Pat Carter/Associated Press)
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Lozman began to use his three minutes to talk about his favorite subject: corruption in Palm Beach County, where Riviera Beach is located.
Wade, who was presiding at the meeting, immediately stopped him. If he continued to rant about a county official at the meeting of the city council, she warned, he would be arrested.
He refused, adding: “I have a right to make my public comment.”
“Carry him out,” Wade told a police officer. Lozman was led away in handcuffs and spent hours in jail. The episode can be seen on YouTube.
More than 11 years later, there have been dropped charges and court hearings, a 19-day federal trial in which Lozman served as his own attorney and a return trip to the appeals court in Atlanta that ruled against him in the houseboat case.
This time at the Supreme Court, Lozman is supported by First Amendment organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of media organizations who say Lozman’s fight is especially important at a time when protests of government policies are on the rise and government officials are geared up to shut them down.
The city of Riviera Beach, meanwhile, is backed by the Trump administration, the District of Columbia and 10 states who say that showing there was probable cause for an arrest — as a jury found in Lozman’s case — should be the end of a retaliatory arrest claim.
Monday, February 26, 2018
Fane Lozman back to the Supreme Court — again
Most lawyers dream of getting a shot to argue in front of the Supreme Court. Non-lawyer Fane Lozman has convinced the Supreme Court to hear him twice. The second one has oral argument tomorrow. From the Washington Post: