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Breaking news: Judge rules sit-lie law unconstitutional

sit-lie2(3:00 P.M.) Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen K. Bushong has ruled that the city of Portland’s sidewalk-obstruction ordinance - commonly referred to as sit-lie, unconstitutionally exceeds the city’s authority.

The ruling was released today, and grants the motion to dismiss a sit-lie case being defended by attorney Clayton Lance.

“This ordinances has been found unconstitutional on three separate and distinct ground,” Lance told Street Roots. “That’s a heck of a lot of unconstitutionality for one little ordinance out of the city. It just is not going to work and they just keep trying to make it fit, and it will never be able to fit in my opinion.”

The sit-lie law prohibits sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The city has maintained it is to keep the sidewalks free of obstructions. Records show that the majority of people cited under the law are homeless.

Judge Bushong ruled that the city’s law conflicts with and is preempted by state law; State v. Robison, which Lance says already allows the city to penalize people for obstructing sidewalks.

“The (sit-lie) ordinance does not at all deal with obstruction. That’s a myth,” Lance said.“It was to move the transient and the homeless because the transient and homeless were sitting on the sidewalks in downtown Portland. Nothing else.”

As Lance noted, this is the latest round in the city’s failed attempts to institute a sit-lie law. In 2004, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Marilyn Litzenberger ruled that the city’s 2003 version of the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The current version was a response to that ruling with more specific information on what was and was not prohibited. The Court of Appeals further ruled that the 2003 version was preempted by state law, the same as Bushong’s ruling.

“In the United States, we fundamentally respect the rights of individuals to meet, to assemble, to communicate and to use public property. And (the city’s) attempts at curtailing those fundamental rights have been unconstitutional every step of the way.”

It is altogether likely the city will revise its ordinance for another round. Lance says he is ready to defend any charges under the ordinance for free.

“Because of social justice and compassion,” Lance said. “We need to have social justice and compassion. And this law lacks that completely.”

Update: City Commissioner Amanda Fritz told Street Roots she is reviewing the ruling and communicating with the City Attorney's office before making a formal comment. She does say though, "I am currently hoping our public meetings over the summer will go ahead as planned, as now more than ever we need to talk together to figure out solutions that work for everyone." Read more about the public meetings.

A judge is also suppose to rule this week on weather or not a lawsuit brought against the city by the Oregon Law Center on the camping ordinance should be heard.

Street Roots coverage from the last time sit-lie was ruled unconstitutional in 2004.