Activists file First Amendment lawsuit against Mohegan Sun Arena authority

By Joe Dolinsky - | April 18th, 2016 1:52 pm

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — An animal rights group is suing the county government owners of Mohegan Sun Arena, claiming their policies limit free speech by hindering activists’ ability to protest an upcoming circus tour.

Plaintiffs Silvie Pomicter, a Lackawanna County animal rights activist, and California non-profit Last Chance for Animals claim the arena ownership’s protest policies restrict “expressive activity” on arena grounds that have been held open for public use in the past, instead confining protesters to a secluded area surrounded by barricades and away from foot traffic, according to a complaint filed Friday in federal court.

Named as defendants in the complaint are the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority, owner of the grounds and facility, and arena managing company SMG.

Messages left Monday at SMG’s Philadelphia headquarters and with authority solicitor Joseph L. Persico were not immediately returned.

The activists say they wish to hold banners and hand out leaflets in protest of a series of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shows scheduled for April 28 to May 1.

However, the complaint says, their ability to engage in such activities will be “severely and unlawfully” limited by the authority’s policies, which also forbid the use of “offensive banners” and “artificial voice amplification.”

The activists, represented by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys Mary Catherine Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper, filed the complaint after the convention authority board last week refused to allow them to protest the upcoming circus events without being confined to a designated area, court records show.

Members of Last Chance for Animals, based in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard, believe that “animals are highly sentient creatures who exist for their own reasons independent of their service to humans; they should not to be made to suffer for the latter,” the complaint says.

Pomicter, according to the complaint, has protested for animal rights for “many years, and regularly protests outside businesses and venues that she believes engage in or support cruelty to animals.”

The complaint asks the court to declare that the defendants’ practices violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments and issue a permanent injunction barring them from prohibiting future acts of protest at the arena.

By Joe Dolinsky

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL