If the judge in William Denis Fitzgerald's battery and public fighting case decides to ban him from the Anaheim City Council chambers, it could be the first time in years that council members get a break from the torment of an abrasive critic.
Fitzgerald, representative for Home Owners Maintaining Our Environment, is a well-known fixture at council meetings. He uses public comments time to rant about Disneyland’s shadowy and absolute power over the city’s politics, and he usually punctuates his comments by directing slurs at council members.
In the past, City Attorney Michael Houston has opined that Fitzgerald’s First Amendment rights don't allow officials to limit his speech, no matter how offensive.
But now Houston’s office is arguing that Fitzgerald is a public safety threat who should be banned from the council chambers since he was arrested at the Dec. 9 council meeting for allegedly assaulting a man in the audience, according to a court briefing filed this week and provided to Voice of OC by Fitzgerald.
The court filing states that the altercation began when a man named Larry Torgerson tried to pass Fitzgerald while walking down an aisle of seats. Fitzgerald then pushed Torgerson in the chest, causing him to fall backward, and then attempted to punch him, the filing says.
The city is seeking to bar Fitzgerald from the council chambers for the duration of the case or a judicial order, according to the filing. It also states that Fitzgerald, who has attended council meetings for years, can use other means to exercise his First Amendment right to address the council.
It makes a point of saying the city's request has nothing to do with Fitzgerald's controversial speech at council meetings.
Superior Court Judge George Berenson denied a previous request by the city to ban Fitzgerald from the council chambers, but allowed Houston's office to file a brief supporting the ban, the filing states.
Fitzgerald criticized the city’s motion as an attempt to silence him.
He has his own version of events. In a sworn declaration, Fitzgerald states that a former councilwoman’s son, a prominent hotel developer and Torgerson had all attacked him that afternoon.
Fitzgerald alleges that Torgerson sat on his lap and said “dirty diapers.” But not before Jay Eastman - former Councilwoman Gail Eastman’s son - stepped on Fitzgerald’s toe and sat right next to him.
According to Fitzgerald's declaration, hotelier Bill O’Connell, who was seated behind Fitzgerald, said “don’t push” and punched him in the back of the head. Fitzgerald rose up out of his seat, causing Torgerson to fall from Fitzgerald’s lap, and O’Connell immediately went into a “fighting position.” Fitzgerald then “rushed toward the lobby to escape the assault.”
Fitzgerald's arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 11.