Hensel’s lawsuit seeks damages from city of Little Falls, co-administrators, police chief
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Little Falls resident Robin Hensel’s attorney Larry A. Frost, filed a lawsuit in federal court on her behalf against the city of Little Falls, Monday, for allegedly violating her Constitutional rights to free speech, among other reasons.
Included in the suit are Little Falls Co-City Administrators Jerry Lochner and Lori Kasella, as well as Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers.
In addition 12 “John Does” are also listed as defendants. This, said Frost, will prevent the need to amend the complaint if other individuals are “impleaded” or added as defendants as discovery is made.
“The city of Little Falls has no excuse in law for wrongfully harassing a 58-year-old grandmother because she colorfully expressed an unpopular viewpoint on her own property,” the complaint reads as it begins to explain the reason for the suit — violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The complaint says that while the city violated Hensel’s right to free speech by requiring her to remove signs placed in her yard saying they were against city ordinance, it failed to request other unlawful signs in the city be removed, despite Hensel filing a complaint about the violations.
“… The defendants brandished their government authority to suppress or burden plaintiff’s viewpoints because of hostility to their ideas and to facilitate and promote viewpoints they found agreeable,” the complaint alleges.
In addition to citing Hensel’s violation of the sign ordinance, which the complaint alleges is itself unconstitutional, the complaint says the city violated Hensel’s rights by denying her access to city parks for an overnight “Occupy” demonstration, although access was granted to others.
It alleges Hensel was denied access “because of defendants’ hostility towards her political viewpoints.”
The complaint also alleges the city prevented Hensel from renting a bench in front of city hall to publish criticism of the city, when the Council decided not to construct a bench in an area where a bench formerly existed.
“It is the custom and usage of city to enforce its sign, park use and bench ordinances arbitrarily, according to the whim of city officials,” the complaint said.
Lochner and Kasella are named in the lawsuit because Lochner “personally signed letters demanding Hensel remove political speech signs from her private property.” While Kasella “is responsible, among other bases for impleading her, for informing City Council of the status of laws affecting city, including constitutional law.”
Schirmers is named as a defendant because the complaint says he did not protect Hensel and treated her differently than others in the same situation, when her life was threatened online and “stirred a great deal of local anger, largely because an illegally-posted sign, against which she filed a complaint said, ‘Support Our Troops.’”
Hensel allegedly gave up her only means of earning income, which was providing respite care for families with children with disabilities, because of the fear of those threats against her.
The suit is asking that damages be awarded according to proof and a punitive damage against the individuals named in the suit, as well as attorneys’ fees, pre-judgment interest and costs.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. The complaint said Hensel has requested a jury trial on all counts in that court.
Frost said the case was filed in federal court because it’s a federal law he is filing. Case law is different in a federal complaint, he said.
As for the reason for a jury trial, he said, “I think protection of people’s liberty is the people’s job. I prefer a jury trial to a judge trial.”
It is ultimately the client’s decision, he said.
Frost is working with Bruce Fein of Bruce Fein and Associates Inc. in Washington, D.C. Fein is someone Frost has worked with before on other cases involving constitution law.
“I know how well he knows this law,” said Frost. “And how passionate he is about this law.” A passion Frost said he shares.