NORTH ADAMS -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is requesting the city revoke a "no trespass" order issued against Robert Cardimino on June 18, saying the organization believes that it violates his "free speech and associated rights."
In a letter dated Sept. 20 to City Solicitor John DeRosa, ACLU attorney William Newman, who is based out of Northampton, finds fault with aspects of the no-trespass order, including its open-ended time frame and that it restricts Cardimino from stepping foot inside City Hall or on the property, when events leading up to the order took place only before the City Council.
"Mr. Cardimino is a veteran, a homeowner and a law-abiding citizen of North Adams who periodically has visited Town Hall [sic] to avail himself of services offered by municipal departments, such as of the offices of the city collector and the city clerk. He has also had reason to attend public meetings within City Hall," Newman wrote.
It is also Newman's opinion that Cardimino's sign, for which he was removed from the council's March 27 meeting, is protected by the First Amendment. He states the council also has no rule prohibiting signs.
"The trespass notice describes a pattern of disruptive behavior but only specifically mentions the two incidents ," Newman wrote. "Mr. Cardimino maintains that he has always followed the council's rules of order, avoiding libelous statements, comments regarding personality
Mayor Richard Alcombright declined to comment on the letter Monday afternoon, saying he needed time to review it with DeRosa and City Council President Michael Bloom.
"We will issue a statement at a more appropriate time," he said.
Cardimino, who provided the Transcript with a copy of the letter, declined to comment until city officials had weighed in on it.
The city issued the no-trespass order against Cardimino following the council's June 12 meeting. During the Open Forum portion of that meeting, Bloom ruled Cardimino out of order after he told Councilor Marie Harpin to "pay her taxes," referring to a list of unpaid taxes he had received from the city. Bloom said the comments were a personal attack on the councilor and would not let Cardimino continue to speak.
Cardimino continued to accuse Harpin of not paying her taxes after the meeting, crossing through a gate that separates the council floor from the public galley to do so. Council rules only specifically prohibit this action during a council meeting. Cardimino, who has hearing problems, was described by Bloom in an interview with the Transcript as "screaming" at Harpin.
Although police were called to City Hall by a councilor, Cardimino left City Hall prior to their arrival.
Cardimino has denied that his statements were a personal attack against the councilor.
According to the city's Administrative Officer Michael Canales, the list that Cardimino received, dated March 22, was more of a "snapshot" of people who had not paid their taxes by that particular day, rather than a list of delinquent taxpayers. He said that if Cardimino had a list from two days later, Harpin would not have been on the list. Canales said Harpin paid the balance of her tax bill after receiving a 30-day overdue notice.
It is also Newman's opinion that there is "no basis for Mr. Bloom's denial of Mr. Cardimino's right to address the council" during the June 12 meeting.
"Mr. Cardimino made this assertion in the context of a statement regarding council members' motivations for what he perceived as their failure to sufficiently review the city budget before approving it," he wrote. "He thus was engaged in core political speech critical of elected officials, which is at the pinnacle of constitutional protections.
"Although Mr. Cardimino's concerns about North Adams city government may or may not be misplaced, he made no false or defamatory assertions and in no way violated the City Council rules of order. The use of a trespass order to suppress speech is exactly that kind of prior restraint that the constitutional right to free speech seeks to prevent."
Cardimino has filed two Open Meeting Law violation complaints with the state Attorney General's office, which has yet to issue any rulings.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email