‘Robin Hood’ parking meter watchers rescued drivers from $80,000 in fines; city wants restraining order

Six activists who work to keep their city’s parking meters full before enforcement officers can write parking tickets are facing off against the city in New Hampshire Supreme Court over the practice.

The city of Keene, N.H., says the self-proclaimed “Robin Hooders” are harassing the city’s three parking enforcement officers. But the activists say they’re preventing the city from “stealing” from citizens for their own benefit.

Last year alone, the group cost the city $80,000 in lost revenue, leader James Cleaveland told Fox News. That number was unverified, but Cleaveland is an accountant.

The harassment claims are “complete nonsense,” Cleaveland and fellow Robin Hooder Ian Freeman told Fox.

“I shoot video for my protection. If something happens, I want an objective record of what transpired. I wouldn’t mind if the parking officials filmed as well. The city claims that we harassed, intimidated and threatened their employees. But they didn’t bring criminal charges against us,” Cleaveland said.

“I think it’s obviously a baseless claim. They would charge us criminally with harassment if they had a shred of evidence indicating that,” Freedman said.

Watch a short video of the Robin Hooders doing their thing here, via YouTube:

The real reason for the lawsuit filed against them, Cleaveland said, is lost revenue.

“The parking meters aren’t about managing parking — they’re about generating revenue for the city. The ticket is a threat. If you don’t pay it, they will impound your vehicle,” he said.

“Most of the money from the fines doesn’t go to improvements. It goes all to the parking department. It’s really an insane system, and I think it is theft because the fines are going right to the parking department.”

The city of approximately 23,400 has sued the group twice, but lower courts have dismissed both claims. City attorney Charles Bauer said that Keene is not interested in either the revenue from the tickets or impinging on the activists’ First Amendment rights.

“I believe in the First Amendment – that’s what this country is built on,” Bauer told Fox News. “We’re not trying to get them to stop their conduct – it’s the proximity and duration.

“They’re bumping into, swarming around within very close proximity [of the parking officials]… running up closely behind them, spooking or scaring them,” Bauer said. “They shout at them, calling them bad things, like ‘bitch’ and ‘racist’ and ‘boy.’”

Bauer said he has asked the state Supreme Court to create a “buffer zone” around parking enforcement officers, allowing the protesters to continue to exercise their right to free speech, but from a distance of at least 10 feet away.

“What we’re asking for is to please step back, out of the face,” attorney Stephen Buckley told the court in footage from WMUR.

But John Meyer, representing the Robin Hooders, said the First Amendment right to peacefully protest is sacrosanct.

“The peace of mind of the parking enforcement officers is not a compelling interest” sufficient to impinge that right, he told the court.

“The Robin Hood protesters are expressing themselves on matters of public concern — literally in the public square — and holding government officials accountable. It’s very important from a constitutional perspective that their expression not be undercut or restricted,” Meyers said. “They are doing this in a peaceful fashion.”

Adopting their own version of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, the group often leaves fliers under the windshield wipers of cars parked near the meters they have fed. The fliers ask drivers to repay the kindness somehow – perhaps by donating the $5 their parking ticket would have cost them to a good cause.

The state Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision after the first of the year, but this group shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Robin Hood always wins in the end.

http://youtu.be/4BClNhcHzZA

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