Justices 'sympathetic' to councilwoman's claim of retaliatory arrest

 March 20, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

An analysis at Bloomberg Law says that the Supreme Court appears "likely" to side with a former councilwoman from Texas who sued city officials for arresting her "in retaliation" for her opposition to a city manager.

The analysis pointed out that justices "on both sides of the court's ideological line" expressed opinions that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had stepped over the line in requiring her "to point to a situation exactly like hers that didn't result in an arrest to claim she was retaliated against."

The former councilwoman, Sylvia Gonzalez, now is 77. She was arrested in 2019 and accused of a misdemeanor for "concealing" government documents.

Previous reports on the case reveal Gonzalez formerly was a council member in Castle Hill, Texas, easily winning her race in 2019 "on a promise to unseat the allegedly corrupt city manager through a petition."

A city resident presented the petition to Mayor Edward Trevino at Gonzalez’s first council meeting, but after the meeting, Trevino asked her for the petition.

She had gathered the papers around her desk at the close of the meeting and put them in a binder. To her surprise, they included the petition, and authorities charged her with "intentionally … concealing" government papers.

Trevino had told city police to investigate Gonzalez, and the council member, then 72, was jailed, with her mugshot released to local media.

Gonzalez ultimately resigned from the council, then sued Trevino and found that her "stance against the city manager" had been used to justify an arrest warrant, which prompted her to charge it was a case of retaliatory arrest, in violation of her First Amendment rights.

According to the analysis, Elena Kagan, a leftist on the bench, said, "You should be able to say 'they’ve never charged somebody with this kind of crime before and I shouldn’t have to go find a person who has engaged in the same conduct.'"

It explained, "To prove an arrest was made in retaliation for speech that’s protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court in Nieves said then that a plaintiff has to plead and prove the arresting officers lacked probable cause to arrest unless they have objective evidence that people aren’t typically arrested for what they did."

The lower court said evidence "has to be comparative and requires a showing that otherwise similarly situated individuals who engaged in the same criminal conduct weren’t arrested."

Also, Justice Neil Gorsuch "wanted to know why someone couldn’t allege they’ve been arrested for a crime that’s never been enforced against anyone before and is being enforced now simply because of their speech," the analysis said.

"I can’t imagine how many [laws] there are at the state and local level and you’re saying they can all sit there unused except for one person who alleges I’m the only person in America who’s ever been prosecuted for this because I dared express a view protected by the First Amendment and that’s not actionable?” he asked.

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