Judge Orders 470 GOP Protesters Released
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: September 2, 2004
Filed at 6:47 p.m. ET
NEW YORK (AP) -- A judge ordered the immediate release of nearly 500 protesters just hours before President Bush was to speak Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, then fined the city for refusing to comply with his order.
State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo fined the city $1,000 for every protester held past a 5 p.m. deadline that he had set for their release. It was unclear how many detainees were still in custody, but Cataldo had ordered the release of 470 people.
``These people have already been the victims of a process,'' state Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo told the city's top lawyer. ``I can no longer accept your statement that you are trying to comply.''
The detainees had been in custody for anywhere from 36 to 66 hours. The decision was immediately hailed by attorneys for the demonstrators.
``They have to release them right now,'' said veteran civil rights attorney Norman Siegel. ``The judge, to his credit, said, `Enough.'''
At a later hearing, Cataldo determined the city failed to comply with his release order and imposed his sanctions. City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo tried in vain to convince the judge that the city was trying desperately to comply with his wishes.
``We can't just open the jails of the city of New York and let everybody out,'' Cardozo said. ``We're not trying to flout your honor's order. ... We're doing everything humanly possible.''
The city had blamed the sheer volume of detainees for the backlog in getting them released. More than 1,700 protesters have been arrested during the convention and the preceding few days -- nearly 1,200 of them on Tuesday during a long-planned day of mass civil disobedience.
The judge's order came less than six hours before Bush was to accept his party's nomination for a second term in a speech at Madison Square Garden. Police were expecting protests coinciding with the speech.
About 50 of the detainees had launched a hunger strike Thursday to protest their extended time behind bars while awaiting arraignment. They were turning down the sandwiches and milk served three times a day in central booking until everyone was freed.
On Thursday, New York commuters were greeted at Grand Central Station by about 100 demonstrators unfurling banners and releasing colorful balloons urging President Bush to do more in the fight against AIDS. There were 26 arrests.
United for Peace and Justice, the group that sponsored the huge pre-convention rally Sunday that drew more than 120,000 people and possibly many thousands more to Manhattan, planned an evening rally at Union Square. Sunday's protest was the largest ever at a U.S. political convention.
Associated Press writer Samuel Maull contributed to this report.