By: Florida Today
Re: Re: Activists charged
By Kathy Reakes
More than 100 local pro-life activists arrested two years ago will have to
pay fines and spend time in jail following a decision by the Florida
5thDistrict Court of Appeal.
In a unanimous ruling, the judges said the activists should pay their
fines and serve their sentences, Assistant State Attorney Michelle Jackson
Jackson said the decision leaves the activists with little chance to appeal
to a higher court because all three of the Daytona Beach-based judges felt
the demonstrators should face their sentences.
"I don't see any basis for an appeal on this decision," Jackson said. "I
think they may have reached the end of the road. It would be almost unheard of
for a court to allow an appeal after such a decision."
Melbourne resident Meredith Raney, who was sentenced to six months in jail
after her arrest, said she was shocked by the decision.
"My lawyer has not called me yet," Raney said. "I don't have a clue to what
is going on with my case."
The judges took up the case after the activists were arrested in April1993
for entering a court-ordered buffer zone around the Aware Woman Center for
Choice clinic in Melbourne.
The injunction that established the 36-foot buffer zone was the first of
its kind in the nation.
It was enacted by Circuit Judge Robert McGregor after clinic employees told
him they were threatened and harassed by pro-life activists. The U.S. Supreme
Court upheld McGregor's ruling in July 1994.
The original court order was directed against the pro-life group Operation
Rescue and its members, who where among those arrested in April1993 during
several days of large-scale protests.
Three months later, 115 of 136 people charged with violating the
injunction were found guilty by visiting Circuit Court Judge John Rudd.
The group appealed Rudd's decision, claiming the buffer zone was
unconstitutional and violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
They also said they should not have been arrested because they were not
named specifically in the injunction, and it could not be proved they were
acting in concert with Operation Rescue.
All those convicted were ordered to pay $238 in court costs, a $100 fine
and a portion of the costs incurred by Melbourne and Brevard County to enforce
the court order.
Melbourne police submitted a bill for $25,000, and the Brevard County
Sheriff's Office filed another for $10,000.
In addition to the fines, five other activists were sentenced to as much as
six months in jail, including the Rev. Keith Tucci, the leader of Operation
Rescue who has since stepped down.
Tucci was sentenced to 30days in jail and five months of supervised
probation. He also was ordered to obey the buffer zone around the clinic - and
any similar zones around the country - or face a longer jail sentence.
Tucci could not be reached for comment Wednesday about the appellate court
Jackson said the group has about 15 to 20 days to file an appeal.