Published on Friday, September 15, 2006 by the Kingston Daily Freeman (New York)
Mall Sues War Protesters
by Katie Young
TOWN OF ULSTER - Kings Mall has filed a civil suit against protesters who read the names of dead soldiers and distribute anti-war literature in front of the military recruitment center at the U.S. Route 9W mall.
The mall's attorney, Jon A. Simonson, said the suit stems from tenants' complaints over loss of business from the protests, with damages estimated at $50,000.
The suit follows the dismissal in late May of trespassing charges against two of the defendants, Jay Wenk and Joan Keefe, both members of the group Veterans For Peace. The two were arrested Feb. 4, and Wenk was arrested again Feb. 11, on charges of harassment.
Ulster County District Attorney Donald A. Williams said the February case was not a criminal matter and that the mall was "initiating an appropriate civil remedy."
Wenk and Keefe were charged with trespassing in August 2005, but those charges were dropped four months later because the complaint failed to state why the two had been asked to leave the mall.
The 79-year-old Wenk, who lives in Woodstock, said he and Keefe were served with the suit while protesting at the mall on Saturday.
"The D.A. refused to prosecute us on criminal charges, and so the mall filed a suit using big business," said Wenk, a World War II veteran.
Wenk and other protesters have read the names of dead soldiers and handed out anti-war literature in front of the military recruitment center each Saturday for the past year- and-a-half. They also bring signs and photographs - a sensitive point for mall tenants, who complained the display was driving customers away and hurting business.
"We're doing this on behalf of the tenants because they're the ones complaining," Tracy Naud, the mall's property manager, said of the lawsuit. "It's hurting their business by putting pictures of dead people in the hallway."
"We understand people may have a political point of view, but at the same time, these businesses have the right to engage in their business and attract customers," Simonson said.
Wenk and Keefe, an 84-year-old Saugerties resident, are being represented by Alan Sussman, the same attorney who pleaded their case in the past.
The suit also was addressed to "John and Jane Doe" - unnamed defendants who the plaintiff hopes to assign to other protesters.
"I don't know how serious the mall is about collecting money; I think they want to get these people out of there," said Stephen Bergstein, the attorney assigned to unnamed defendants. "We believe the First Amendment has to factor into the way this case is resolved."
Simonson said he hopes the matter can be ironed out at a conference with the defendants and assigned a judge on Sept. 26.
"My feeling is let the conference take place and hopefully resolve this amicably," Simonson said. "It'll be discussed and we'll see if a resolution can be had right from the beginning."
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