RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. – When city activist Fane Lozman addressed the Riviera Beach commission in 2006, a city commissioner stopped him when he brought up corruption in the city, telling him he wasn’t allowed to criticize officials in his comments.
A police officer handcuffed Lozman when he calmly continued his prepared remarks and prosecutors charged him with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
"I have a right to make public comments," Lozman protested.
Not that day; he was taken to jail. He believed the move was in retaliation for his successful fight to stop the city from selling the public marina where he lived in a floating home to a private developer, which would have displaced him but hundreds of other residents in the process.
“When I was sitting in that jail cell, I said, ‘This is what America is all about, I'm going to fight this out,’” said Lozman. “I served in the Marines, my grandfather served in World War I, I said we're gonna fight this out for the First Amendment.”
Lozman sued the city for wrongful arrest and, even though the charges were dropped and there was evidence the city had been planning to retaliated against him with intimidation tactics,the lawsuit was thrown out because a judge ruled there was probable cause for the arrest and under federal law that protected the city from liability.
Riviera beach on this particular case spent $1.25 million to fight the case, but Lozman and his attorney Kerri Barsh took it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. This week the high court ruled in Lozman's favor.
“Chief Justice [John] Roberts said I wasn't doing anything wrong, I was speaking in a calm voice, you can't do that,” said Lozman.
Making it more amazing, it's the second time the Supreme Court ruled in Lozman's favor against the city. The first came in 2013 after the city seized his floating home and ultimately destroyed it. Barsh said Lozman may be the only person to win twice at the Supreme Court in modern history.
“To go back twice and get victory is like icing on the cake,” said Barsh. “It doesn’t get any better.”
Both said it's a victory not just for Lozman but for the First Amendment. Now the case goes back to the federal appellate court and Lozman said he now hopes for a settlement with the city once and for all.
“It’s been a ten year battle … and to finally get to the promised land it’s amazing,” he said.