Activist files $2.5 million claim against Novato for alleged free speech violations

An anti-illegal immigration activist sued the city of Novato claiming his arrest at a Sept. 14 council meeting violated his First Amendment rights. He was arrested after he made incendiary remarks to the council and refused to leave the podium or address the council directly. -db

Marin Independent Journal
December 9, 2010
By Rob Rogers

Anti-illegal immigration activist Jerome Ghigliotti has filed a $2.5 million claim against the city of Novato, arguing that his arrest at a Sept. 14 meeting of the City Council resulted in numerous civil rights and First Amendment violations.

“I am seeking damages because the city hurt me,” said Ghigliotti, a Novato resident and San Francisco attorney. “They did bad, illegal things.”

The city’s insurance adjuster has rejected the claim, Novato City Manager Michael Frank said Thursday. Ghigliotti had previously said he would consider filing a lawsuit against the city if it turned the claim down. “I wouldn’t do anything without the advice of counsel, and until the city said yes or no,” Ghigliotti said.

Ghigliotti, a spokesman for the anti-illegal immigration group Citizens for Legal Employment and Contracting, has frequently expressed his displeasure with the Novato City Council by turning his back on the council during public comment sessions and making pronouncements to the audience.

Those pronouncements have included an Aug. 24 statement in which he said he wished a councilwoman’s family member would be raped or murdered by an illegal immigrant, so that the council would recognize the seriousness of the issue. Ghigliotti had begun another speech at the council’s Sept. 14 meeting when then-Mayor Jeanne MacLeamy asked him either to address the council or leave the podium. When Ghigliotti refused repeated requests, Novato Police Chief Joseph Kreins arrested Ghigliotti.

The Marin County District Attorney’s Office later found that it did not have enough evidence to charge Ghigliotti with disruption of a public meeting.

Ghigliotti insists that his latest legal action against the city is not an attempt to draw attention to his group’s cause. He has repeatedly criticized the Novato council for refusing to place a citizens’ initiative on the ballot that would require contractors working for the city to determine the immigration status of their employees using a federal database.

“Those are two separate issues,” he said. “The fact that the council has not put the initiative on the ballot will require a writ of mandamus. These issues will be handled by two different attorneys.”

His claim accuses the city, the City Council, its members and city staff, including Chief Kreins, with false arrest and imprisonment, defamation, slander, violation of state and federal voting and civil rights, and malice. As a result, Mayor Madeline Kellner said neither she nor other city officials could comment on the claim.

“Because of potential litigation, I cannot comment at this time,” Kellner said.

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