PORTLAND — Occupy Maine faces a deadline of noon today to take down its encampment — unless it files a lawsuit against Portland to remain in Lincoln Park.

John Branson, the lawyer representing the group, has said the protesters plan to meet that deadline by filing a lawsuit this morning. He said the protest relies on its ability to sustain continuous assembly, despite a city ordinance that bars people from the park between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“It’s just the nature of the demonstration,” he said. “To apply that code provision to this group basically bans their form of protest.”

Protesters in Lincoln Park said the Monday deadline was not a concern because it will take time to work out the dispute in court.

“They’ll have a certain amount of time to respond (to our lawsuit) and we’ll have a certain amount of time to reply to that,” said Ray Woodburn Jr. as he made some coffee in the pantry tent Sunday. “It’s a minimum of two weeks.”

A bigger immediate problem was the cold weather, with temperatures in the teens early Sunday morning and expected to dip to about 10 degrees last night.

“My shoes were frozen solid,” said Matt Jones, a camper from Portland.

But the cold snap won’t discourage the protesters any more than the eviction notice, Woodburn said. “Everybody will be acclimated after a few days.”

Earlier this month, the City Council voted 8-1 to deny Occupy Maine a permit to keep its encampment in the park.

On Thursday, the city issued a notice to vacate. The formal notice allows the group to take the issue to court.

The legal action by Occupy Maine will be different from those by protesters in Augusta and Boston, Branson said. In neither of those cases did the group seek permission to remain where it was, he said.

“In Boston, the judge called it a hostile takeover of land. Neither group thought they had any obligation to apply or be put under a permitting structure,” Branson said.

The Occupy Maine camp has been in Lincoln Park since early October. City officials allowed it there after rejecting the protesters’ attempts to pitch tents in Monument Square.

Occupy Maine will address the lack of public space available for First Amendment activity after 1 a.m., Branson said. For the most part, people aren’t allowed in Portland’s public parks after 10 p.m. — the exceptions being the 1 a.m. closures for Tommy’s Park and Post Office Park, he said.

Branson said Occupy Maine will argue that the ordinance is overly broad and that the City Council’s rejection of the group’s permit demonstrated a lack of flexibility when developers of commercial projects are able to seek variances.

Branson would not say last week whether the lawsuit would be filed in state or federal court.

The city’s lawyer said he was not comfortable commenting on Occupy Maine’s legal arguments before reading the complaint. Gary Wood said his analysis of other Occupy legal cases seems to indicate that courts have refused to extend First Amendment rights to encampments.

He said the cases he has reviewed suggest that even when the First Amendment applies to encampments, government restrictions on time, place and manner have been deemed reasonable.

Portland officials are taking every possible reasonable step to avoid the type of conflicts that have occurred at Occupy encampments elsewhere, Wood said.

“We want to stay as far away from that as we could while still furthering our responsibility to enforce the city and state laws and protect public health, welfare and safety — including the public health, welfare and safety of the people in the park,” he said.

Wood said he believes the courts are the right place to resolve such questions. He said it’s difficult for policy makers to determine the scope and reach of constitutional rights.

“That’s something everybody really needs court guidance on. That’s what courts are good at,” he said.



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