Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward heard opening arguments on Tuesday in a request to evict the Occupy Pittsburgh protesters from their encampment on BNY Mellon’s small park in downtown Pittsburgh.
While BNY Mellon lawyers said that the protest group must leave the ‘Mellon Green’ park because it’s private property, the protesters’ legal team argued that the park is a public forum and therefore open for a prolonged demonstration.
Attorney Dan Booker, representing BNY Mellon, said that the bank’s right to control its private property is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that no precedent for political demonstration has been set on Mellon Green before now.
Jules Lobel, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights arguing for the occupiers, said that several Circuit Courts have ruled that any private property that gives the appearance of a public thoroughfare can be used for demonstrations. He said that Mellon Green fits that description.
“We’re claiming that, even though this is technically private property, it looks, acts, and appears to be like any other sidewalk in downtown Pittsburgh, which is used for public thoroughfare,” said Lobel. “It was built using public subsidies, as a public plaza, and therefore it has to remain open to the public.”
Lobel went on to argue that in order to validate their request to have Occupy Pittsburgh immediately removed from the park, BNY Mellon must show the threat of imminent harm, which he said that the bank cannot do.
“The thickness of their papers masks the thinness of their arguments,” said Lobel.
Chairman of BNY Mellon of Pennsylvania Vincent Sands was the first witness. He said that the company served the eviction notice in December because it was concerned about possible safety issues within the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment. Sands said that the bank has spent an additional $24,000 per week on security in its nearby buildings since the protesters’ tents were first pitched in mid-October.
Lawyers for BNY Mellon did not comment but to say that they expect the hearing to continue into Wednesday.