Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute will argue tomorrow for the dismissal of trespassing charges brought against Richard C. Collins for distributing campaign literature at a shopping center. The two civil liberties organizations representing Collins claim that the Virginia Constitution protects the right to leaflet at shopping centers and other private places open to the public.
Collins, then a candidate for the House of Delegates in the Democratic Party primary, was charged with trespassing on May 7, 2005 after greeting customers and distributing campaign literature outside the Whole Foods store in Shopper’s World, a large shopping center located off Rt. 29 in Albemarle County. Collins did not obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and was polite in his dealings with shoppers, but he was asked to leave by a shopping center official.
In October 2005, the Albemarle County General District Court found Collins guilty of the criminal charge of trespassing. Collins has appealed that decision. Tomorrow’s hearing is a separate civil case brought by Collins.
“In many areas of our country, but particularly in the suburbs, shopping centers have become the town centers, the place where people shop, mingle and exchange views,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “That’s the very place where political activists most need to campaign.”
“If the Virginia Constitution protects my right to distribute political literature outside a store in Charlottesville’s downtown mall or Old Town Alexandria, then I should be able to stand outside a store in a large shopping center and do the same,” added Willis. “One space is public and the other is private, but they are both used in exactly the same way.”
State courts in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington have already interpreted their state constitutions to protect, at least to some degree, the right to free speech in malls and shopping centers.
The lawyers for Collins are: Stephen D. Rosenfield, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Virginia; R. Frazier Solsberry, participating attorney for The Rutherford Institute; and Rebecca K. Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia.
What: Collins v. Shoppers' World, Argument on Defendant's Demurrer When: Thursday, May 11, 4:30 p.m. Where: Albemarle County Circuit Court, 501 East Jefferson Street, Charlottesville, VA Lawyers: Stephen D. Rosenfield, Rebecca K. Glenberg, R. Frazier Solsberry
Contacts: Kent Willis or Rebecca Glenberg, 804/644-8022; Stephen D. Rosenfield, 434/984-0300