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OWS – The Legal Working Group

Legal Working Group (photo: Nathan Johnson)

By now you have learned that OWS gets most of its nuts and bolts work accomplished through a “working group” system. The working groups then take their final thoughts to the General Assembly which votes on various issues.

There are working groups that provide the meals, working groups that organize the library, working groups that work on various process issues. You name it, there’s a working group.

Being the law geek around the Lake, I went to introduce myself to the Legal Working Group and was given an interview by one of its members, Janos Marton. Mr. Marton works at a law firm by day and spends his off hours helping OWS. The firm members who know about his activity have been supportive.

The Legal Working group evolved over time. Originally, the National Lawyers Guild set up and manned a table for 2 hours each day from 5 to 7 PM. However, protestors at the park had questions all day long, so a group of lawyers and interested lay people took shifts to expand the hours of operation at the legal table.

The primary advice initially was to make sure that the protestors know the arrest process and to make sure they were matched up with lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild.

Since then the Legal Working Group has expanded. They now are doing legal research to be prepared for various contingencies that may arise. They also work with other working groups that have legal questions, such as about trademarks, permits, and possible corporate or PAC structure to manage the donations. They also work on basic criminal issues. [cont’d.]

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The working group members are also a conduit to facilitate communication between the National Lawyers Guild and the General Assembly and occupiers.

The General Assembly recently passed a resolution that any litigation commenced on behalf of OWS must be pre-approved and vetted by the Legal Working Group. So, if you want to send a letter to the Police Commissioner, if you think OWS should be a 501 C4 corporation, if you want to commence a litigation on behalf of OWS, you need the Legal Working Group to bring the matter to the General Assembly.

I asked about the possibility of commencing either an Article 78 Proceeding in state court or a First Amendment case in federal court over some of the asinine restrictions (no tents, no porta potties) that have been imposed on OWS. With respect to Liberty Plaza, he said this:

“Because there is so much legal uncertainty over the status of privately owned public spaces, including their relationship to the 1st Amendment, it is unclear if the current situation [at Liberty Plaza] would be helped or hurt by litigation.”

It occurs to me that OWS could test things without jeopardizing their status at Liberty Plaza by applying for permits at two suitable (hard scaped) parks, one federal and one city. Washington Square Park is a city park nearby and Castle Clinton down at Battery Park is federal. If the permit to engage in free speech via 24/7 occupation is denied at those locations, there is a perfect opportunity to bring an action apiece in state and federal court.

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OWS – The Legal Working Group

Legal Working Group (photo: Nathan Johnson)

By now you have learned that OWS gets most of its nuts and bolts work accomplished through a “working group” system. The working groups then take their final thoughts to the General Assembly which votes on various issues.

There are working groups that provide the meals, working groups that organize the library, working groups that work on various process issues.  You name it, there’s a working group.

Being the law geek around the Lake, I went to introduce myself to the Legal Working Group and was given an interview by one of its members, Janos Marton. Mr. Marton works at a law firm by day and spends his off hours helping OWS. The firm members who know about his activity have been supportive.

The Legal Working group evolved over time. Originally, the National Lawyers Guild set up and manned a table for 2 hours each day from 5 to 7 PM. However, protestors at the park had questions all day long, so a group of lawyers and interested lay people took shifts to expand the hours of operation at the legal table.

The primary advice initially was to make sure that the protestors know the arrest process and to make sure they were matched up with lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild.

Help Kevin Gosztola purchase & distribute supplies from the Occupy Supply fund.

Since then the Legal Working Group has expanded.  They now are doing legal research to be prepared for various contingencies that may arise. They also work with other working groups that have legal questions, such as about trademarks, permits, and possible corporate or PAC structure to manage the donations.  They also work on basic criminal issues.

The working group members are also a conduit to facilitate communication between the National Lawyers Guild and the General Assembly and occupiers.

The General Assembly recently passed a resolution that any litigation commenced on behalf of OWS must be pre-approved and vetted by the Legal Working Group. So, if you want to send a letter to the Police Commissioner, if you think OWS should be a 501 C4 corporation, if you want to commence a litigation on behalf of OWS, you need the Legal Working Group to bring the matter to the General Assembly.

I asked about the possibility of commencing either an Article 78 Proceeding in state court or a First Amendment case in federal court over some of the asinine restrictions (no tents, no porta potties) that have been imposed on OWS. With respect to Liberty Plaza, he said this:

“Because there is so much legal uncertainty over the status of privately owned public spaces, including their relationship to the 1st Amendment, it is unclear if the current situation [at Liberty Plaza] would be helped or hurt by litigation.”

It occurs to me that OWS could test things without jeopardizing their status at Liberty Plaza by applying for permits at two suitable (hard scaped) parks, one federal and one city. Washington Square Park is a city park nearby and Castle Clinton down at Battery Park is federal. If the permit to engage in free speech via 24/7 occupation is denied at those locations, there is a perfect opportunity to bring an action apiece in state and federal court.

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Cynthia Kouril

Cynthia Kouril

Cynthia Kouril is a former Special Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York under several different U.S. Attorneys, former counsel to the Inspector General for the N.Y.C. Department of Environmental Protection where she investigated threats to the New York City water supply and other environmental crimes, as well as public corruption and fraud against the government, former Examining Attorney at the N.Y.C. Department of Investigation and former Capital Construction Counsel at New York City Parks and Recreation.
She is now in private practice with a colleague whom she met while at the USA Attorney's Office. Ms. Kouril is a member of the Steering Committee, National Committeewoman and Regional Coordinator for the New York Democratic Lawyers Council, a member of the Program Committee of the Federal Bar Council and a member of the Election Law Committee at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. She is active in several other Bar Associations.
Most important of all, she is a soccer mom.