This is a joint release by the ACLU of Southern California and the County of Orange.
ORANGE, CALIF. -- Attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California, Orange County office, representing an association of day laborers, have reached an agreement with counsel for several Orange County defendants in a lawsuit over the First Amendment rights of day laborers to seek work in public areas of the city of Lake Forest.
In the agreement, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the day laborer association affirm the First Amendment right of all individuals to solicit work on public sidewalks in the city unless there are violations of law. They also affirm the right of contractors to solicit workers in public areas of the city as long as no law is violated. Accordingly, under the agreement, the county defendants retain full authority to enforce laws regulating conduct, including those prohibiting jaywalking, double parking or littering.
“This agreement recognizes that certain basic rights belong to all people,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC). “Everyone has the right to free expression on the public sidewalk, so long as they are not violating state or local law.”
The terms of the agreement do not include the payment of money by the County of Orange, the Orange County Sheriff's Department or any of the individual defendants, and there is no admission of wrongdoing by any defendant. The agreement allows the plaintiffs to file a motion with the district court to seek payment of attorneys’ fees and costs.
The agreement comes 17 months after the ACLU/SC, acting on behalf of day laborers in the Lake Forest area, filed suit against the city of Lake Forest and several representatives of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department over a local city ordinance barring laborers from soliciting work on local street corners, and over alleged acts of intimidation and harassment targeting those day laborers.
Plaintiffs La Asociacion de Trabajadores de Lake Forest (ATLF), Colectivo Tonantzin, and The National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) complained that the Lake Forest ordinance was illegal because it targeted speech by a specific group and left workers no alternative way to express their availability for work, thus infringing on their constitutionally protected freedom of expression. The plaintiffs further complained that just as the ordinance could not lawfully target the expression of workers, neither could the defendants, through informal acts, seek to discourage workers from engaging in protected speech. The plaintiffs thus claimed that certain practices of sheriff’s deputies interfered with First Amendment rights.
The Orange County defendants maintained throughout the lawsuit, and continue to maintain, that it is the policy of the Sheriff's Department to respond to criminal violations, crime trends, citizen complaints and observations of criminal/suspicious behavior in the same manner throughout the city of Lake Forest. The Sheriff's Department does not discourage the free expression of any individual's constitutional rights, including the right to peaceably assemble on public sidewalks and express availability to work. It is, and has been, the policy of the Sheriff's Department to enforce the law without bias to gender, race, ethnicity or socio-economic standing.
Three weeks after the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, the city repealed the ordinance. However, the plaintiffs alleged that even after the repeal, the defendants continued in their informal enforcement efforts targeting day laborers soliciting work, so the plaintiffs continued to pursue the litigation.
In June 2008, the plaintiffs settled with a private security company working for business owners in the area that had been added as a defendant in the litigation. At that time, the plaintiffs also agreed to dismiss the city of Lake Forest and its City Council members as defendants, but continued to pursue the case against the Orange County defendants.
On August 18, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter urged the remaining parties to resolve the dispute themselves, although both sides were prepared for a trial.