ORANGE, Calif. - A state appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of misdemeanor charges of disrupting a meeting against Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, a former Orange Coast College student involved in a free-speech lawsuit against the city of Costa Mesa.
The court agreed with Belinda Escobosa-Helzer, an attorney for the Orange County office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who argued that a local attorney appointed by the city to prosecute the case against Tezcatlipoca did not have authority because he had not been duly sworn in or appointed under California law.
'The law is pretty black and white on this,' Escobosa-Helzer said. 'I think the court's opinion recognizes that. We're holding the city and its representatives to the requirements of the law.'
At a meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council in January of 2006, Tezcatlipoca, also known as Benito Acosta, was speaking out against a proposal to deputize local police officers to enforce immigration law when then-Mayor Allan Mansoor cut him off. Several officers then surrounded Tezcatlipoca, dragged him out of chambers and arrested him.
Representing Tezcatlipoca, the ACLU/SC filed a federal lawsuit against the city in March, charging that his First Amendment, due process and equal protection rights had been violated. Three months later, Danny Peelman, a local attorney who worked with the firm that represented the city in the civil case, filed misdemeanor charges against Tezcatlipoca, even though the Orange County District Attorney's Office had declined to prosecute.
In October 2007, Orange County Superior Court Judge Kelly McEachern dismissed the case against Tezcatlipoca, finding that Peelman had not been duly sworn in or appointed. The city appealed. But on Wednesday, acting presiding Judge Greg L. Prickett of the state court of appeals, along with judges Mary Fingal Schulte and Robert J. Moss, issued an order affirming the lower court ruling.
'Private criminal prosecutions are illegal in California,' Escobosa-Helzer said. 'The court's opinion confirms the allegations that we made from the beginning that this prosecution was vindictive and in retaliation for Mr. Tezcatlipoca's assertion of his constitutional rights.'