NEW YORK, Jan 10 (Reuters) - While the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, remains uninhabited by protesters
after their eviction in November, the legal battle surrounding
the movement goes on.
Police Tuesday removed barricades that had surrounded much
of the park, a day after several advocacy groups sent a letter
to the New York City's Department of Buildings complaining that
the barriers violated legal requirements that the park remain
"We're pleased the city is finally giving the park back to
the people," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New
York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "We hope
Zuccotti Park can now resume its rightful place as a center for
meeting and protest in New York City.
Paul Browne, the New York City Police Department's chief
spokesman, said in an email that the barricades were removed
because "we determined they were not needed" and not in
response to the letter.
Monday's letter, signed by the NYCLU, the Center for
Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild, asserted
that the barricades run counter to zoning law requiring that at
least 50 percent of the park's frontage be unobstructed and
that circulation paths connect freely to the street.
In addition, the groups argued, security guards and police
arbitrarily have banned certain items from the park. These
items, which are not prohibited by the park's rules of conduct,
include food, musical instruments, cardboard signs and yoga
mats, according to the letter.
"These practices have substantially modified Liberty Plaza,
making it a wholly inhospitable space for the public," the
groups wrote, referring to the park by its former name.
"What you can and can't bring changes all the time," Gideon
Oliver, president of the New York chapter of the NLG, said in
an interview. "It's very Alice in Wonderland."
In a statement Tuesday before the barricades were removed,
buildings department spokesman Tony Sclafani said, "Our
inspectors determined that no violation is warranted due to
adequate public access to the park."
A call for comment to Brookfield Properties, the company
that owns Zuccotti Park, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
MOTION TO CONSOLIDATE
Also on Monday, between 60 and 70 Occupy protesters who
were arrested during a rally in Union Square last fall appeared
in a special courtroom dedicated to churning through the
hundreds of Occupy-related cases.
About one-third of the cases were dismissed when
prosecutors told Criminal Court Judge Neil Ross that they could
not prove the cases beyond a reasonable doubt.
The rest of the cases appear to be headed for trial.
Prosecutors have filed a motion to consolidate the cases into
groups, and Ross has indicated he would prefer to avoid the
prospect of hundreds of individual trials.
Another 30 protesters arrested in Foley Square in downtown
Manhattan were in court Tuesday, and around 50 or 60 additional
Occupy cases -- protesters who were among the hundreds arrested
on the Brooklyn Bridge in October -- are expected in court
The Office of Court Administration set up the special
courtroom and assigned Ross, a veteran judge, to shepherd all
of the Occupy cases through the system.
The Manhattan district attorney's office has assigned
several prosecutors to handle all Occupy-related cases --
including summons cases, for which prosecutors typically do not
appear -- to maintain consistency.
Of the 1,800 Occupy cases handled by the district
attorney's office, about half have been resolved, a spokeswoman
for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. Many
protesters have accepted what is known as an adjournment in
contemplation of dismissal, which erases the charges from their
records if they are not arrested for six months.
Others, however, have vowed to take their cases to trial.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the city's right to clear
protesters and their tents from Zuccotti Park -- accomplished
during a secretly planned late-night raid -- remains pending in
Manhattan Supreme Court.
The Occupy Wall Street movement burst into public
consciousness last fall with its protests against income
inequality and perceived corporate greed.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax)
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