ACLU appeals to judge over loitering law

It seeks to block city's effort to get challenge dismissed

July 07, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland asked a federal judge yesterday to block Annapolis' attempt to persuade a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that challenges the city's new anti-loitering law.

In motions and supporting papers, the ACLU asked the judge to deny the summary judgement motion the city filed in May and grant the ACLU's summary judgement motion to declare the law unconstitutional. The motions also argued against the city's request that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People be removed as one of four plaintiffs.

The city has 25 days to respond.

The case is pending before Judge Catherine C. Blake in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, and a decision could be reached by fall.

"The ACLU motion adds nothing new to the case," said City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke. "We remain confident that the ordinance is constitutionally sound."

The measure, which was approved in October, is aimed at curbing open-air drug dealing. The ACLU has said the law is vague, unconstitutional and gives police too much power.

The ordinance allows neighborhoods or residents in an area where multiple drug arrests have been made to seek the designation of "drug-loitering free zone."

That designation allows police officers to approach and move along people they suspect of dealing drugs and anyone known as a drug user and subject to a court order prohibiting his or her presence in a designated area.

The ACLU filed a suit challenging the law in February on behalf of the NAACP and three Annapolis residents, days after the council first applied the law to Newtowne Twenty, one of the city's 10 public housing complexes.

The council amended the law in March to clarify its terms and narrowed its application. The ACLU, in turn, amended its lawsuit to reflect the changes.

In May, the city filed its motion for dismissal or removing the local chapter of the NAACP as a plaintiff because the lawsuit does not make any claim of racial discrimination. A month later, the Annapolis council added a rationale for the ordinance as part of the ordinance's legislative history.

"It's still deeply flawed," said Dwight H. Sullivan, chief counsel for the ACLU of Maryland. "It's going to be used disproportionately on people of color."

The majority of the eight communities that have applied for the designation are predominantly black. Four have been designated, but the ordinance has not been enforced, Goetzke said.

"The city has decided not to enforce it until the case is settled," he said.

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