A First Amendment protest that led to criminal charges in Boulder City has now ended with a higher court judge slamming city prosecutors.
A district court judge has ruled that the actions of the Boulder City attorneys committed vindictive prosecution that violated freedom of speech rights.
It all started as a simple protest on the part of John Hunt, a Boulder City man arrested for the act of walking across the street. But now, it’s morphed into a severe legal spanking for the city attorney’s office and an embarrassment for the city itself.
“The only way my client was able to get justice was to appeal and go up to District Court,” said Stephen Stubbs, attorney to John Hunt. “Otherwise it was fixed from the start. We did not have an opportunity for a fair trial.”
Stubbs knew what he was getting into when he took Hunt’s case. Hunt’s one-man sidewalk crime spree had Boulder City abuzz in 2016. Hunt was ticketed as part of a police sting to catch motorists who failed to stop at a crosswalk on the town’s main drag. But, when Hunt returned to the scene and crossed the street twice in the course of one minute in protest, police swooped in, took him to the ground, and then to jail.
Misdemeanor charges were filed against Hunt, but the city attorney later dropped them. However, when Hunt filed a civil suit over the arrest many months later, the city reinstated the charges and tacked on a few more. Stubbs felt the deck was stacked.
“The thing was fixed from the beginning with Judge Miller,” Stubbs said. “Judge Miller decided the case in writing before the trial ever came, and he was forced to recuse himself.”
Boulder City’s only judge, Victor Miller whose name is on the court building, was forced to withdraw after he slapped Stubbs with a gag order when Stubbs posted a comment on Facebook that was critical of city attorney Steven Morris.
As Stubbs pointed out, Morris, the stake president in the LDS church, is Judge Miller’s religious leader, so the chance of Miller ruling against his ecclesiastical leader was slim.
After John Hunt was found guilty by a replacement judge, Stubbs appealed to district court. Judge Richard Scotti’s blistering decision found the city had committed vindictive prosecution for filing new charges after Hunt had exercised his constitutional rights.
READ: Judge Scotti’s ruling
The city knew Hunt was protesting and still charged him, which was an abridgment of free speech rights, the judge ruled. The charges were dismissed, but Stubbs says it’s not the end of it because anyone else charged in Boulder City could face the same situation
“Judge Scotti did a fantastic job of looking at the case and seeing that things were wrong and vindicating my client, but there’s some serious problems in Boulder City and I don’t think they can be fixed with both Judge Morris and Steve Morris in the positions they’re in,” Stubbs said.
Boulder City Communications Manager Lisa Laplante told the I-Team Tuesday afternoon that the city respectfully disagrees with the ruling, and said the pedestrian protest was the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. She also said that the city plans to appeal the decision.
Stephen Stubbs also plans to add this to a lawsuit filed against Boulder City that is now in federal court.