SAN JOSE -- Testimony concluded Monday in a federal free-speech lawsuit involving a Santa Cruz City Council critic ejected from a meeting and arrested after making a mock Nazi salute.
The city's attorney, George Kovacevich, showed the jury several videos of Robert Norse's appearances before the council, which the activist often used to berate officials for policies concerning the homeless or accuse them of silencing him and other critics. Afterward, Kovacevich asked Norse to explain why he thinks he has the right to speak out of order or argue.
"Public testimony should not be short-circuited by high-handed behavior of the City Council," he said. "I will finish my statement so that people watching will know they have the right to finish their statement and the power to finish their statement."
Norse, 65, was arrested in March 2002 after refusing then-Mayor Christopher Krohn's order to leave after making the brief gesture to suggest the mayor was acting like a fascist for keeping a woman from speaking once public comment period had ended. Norse was arrested again in January 2004 after then-Mayor Scott Kennedy asked him to leave after participating in a protest parade around the Council Chamber then returning to whisper to an acquaintance.
The two cases have been consolidated for the trial presided over by U.S. District Court Ronald Whyte, who earlier dismissed the matter but was ordered by an appellate panel to hear evidence. Whyte said closing arguments are expected Tuesday, at which time jurors will learn how much Norse is seeking in damages for what he described as the chilling effect on his comfort level attending future meetings.
Norse also will ask the judge for the city to cover his attorney's fees, which he estimated to be as much as $500,000. He said his request for damages will be much less than that. The case has cost the city an estimated $150,000 to defend.
Former Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice, who brought the salute to Krohn's attention and requested Norse be ejected, told jurors it was common for the mayor to ask citizens and staff to step outside if they are having conversations that disturb council meetings. However, he acknowledged the council's rules of decorum don't ban whispering.
Norse contends Kennedy, who died in 2011, singled him out for ejection. But city officials argue Norse has a long history of creating disruptions at meetings, often agitating for homelessness issues during public comment time set aside for other topics.
Two weeks after the 2002 incident, Krohn restricted Norse to speaking for a total of five minutes on several items Norse asked to remove from the council's noncontroversial consent agenda. Krohn acknowledged he could not recall similarly restricting others.
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports