Charges have been dismissed against two Republican Party activists who were arrested for passing out pamphlets at the party's Salt Lake County convention in April.
Third District Judge Sheila McCleve dismissed trespassing and disturbing the peace charges against Tom Draschil and a trespassing charge against Ruth Robinson after defense attorneys argued, among other things, that the alleged activity for which they had been arrested took place at a government-sponsored forum.Draschil of Provo and Robinson of Riverton are members of the Republican Assembly, a conservative GOP watchdog group affiliated with the Eagle Forum.
On April 18, Draschil, Robinson and other members of the group were handing out literature before the opening of the convention and, according to a police report, were ordered to stop by county GOP chairman Bill Quist and Salt Palace personnel.
They were told that they could remain in the building only if they left their literature outside, or else they could stand out on the sidewalk and pass out the pamphlets there, the report states. Otherwise they would be removed from the building.
When given the ultimatum, Draschil began "yelling and gesturing with his arms in a flailing motion" and saying, "Well, then arrest me," the report states.
When Robinson saw Draschil being handcuffed, she told the officers something to the effect of, "If you're going to arrest Tom, you might as well arrest me, too," said Robinson's attorney, Karlynn Hinman. And officers did.
Under normal circumstances, Salt Palace policy would have allowed the lessee, the Republican convention, to restrict access to the building. But since Salt Lake County had subsidized the convention by waiving the $2,600 rental fee, then in this case the county was the real lessee, argued Draschil's attorney Matthew Hilton.
"By waiving the fee for the Salt Lake County Republican Party that would normally have been paid, Salt Lake County subsidized the activities at the Salt Palace and created a limited public forum," Hilton said. "When this is done, the government may not regulate speech based on content."
Hilton also argued that Draschil could not have disturbed the peace by screaming because of the nature of the event and because of his constitutional right to defend his freedom of speech by arguing with a police officer.
Both Draschil and Robinson faced a maximum of 30 days in jail after being charged with the infractions, which are ranked less than a misdemeanor. However, Draschil had said he would take the matter to trial if necessary.
"Justice has been served," Draschil said after the dismissal. "We feel vindicated and very happy" that the dismissal will save time and "a lot of money."
"The people of Utah and the Constitution won today," Robinson added.
Draschil said he plans to continue to work with the Utah Republican Assembly and to distribute literature as he and his associates have done on previous occasions.