- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A federal judge has ruled in favor of the city of Lincoln in a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man arrested and convicted of trespassing for handing out religious leaflets outside an arena on public land.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp on Thursday granted the city’s request to end Larry Ball’s lawsuit, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (https://bit.ly/28ZbLVP ).

Ball, 78, was ticketed last year, found guilty of two misdemeanor trespassing counts and fined $100 plus court costs. Ball has maintained that the plaza area in front of the arena entrance where he was handing out religious pamphlets during a sporting event is a public sidewalk and that the city violated his constitutional right to free speech.

But the city argued that the plaza is quasi-public because it is contracted to private tenants, and that those tenants should be able to control the flow of people around the arena.

On Thursday, the judge agreed.

“There is no material dispute that the plaza area was not traditionally or historically open to free expression, nor is there any material dispute that the defendants did not intend the plaza area to be used for public exchange of ideas,” Smith Camp said. “Instead, the undisputed evidence shows that the nature and use of the Plaza Area primarily have been associated with the commercial purposes of the arena.”

The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped represent Ball in the lawsuit, said it plans to appeal Smith Camp’s decision. Chapter director Danielle Conrad said in a statement that the decision has implications for all visitors to the arena.

“It is very sad that our city leadership continues to expend taxpayer resources fighting and suppressing the First Amendment rights of our client Larry Ball, who peacefully passed out religious pamphlets to his fellow Nebraskans in the public square and as a consequence was criminally cited and jailed by the City of Lincoln for these actions,” Conrad said.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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