TriMet free speech dispute lands in federal court


PORTLAND (AP) — A federal court now has the case of a lawyer barred for 30 days from Portland’s mass transit system for speaking up when a fare inspector was telling a man to pipe down.

Jennie Bricker says she was waiting on a MAX light-rail platform last year when the TriMet fare inspector told an argumentative man to stop talking and said he had no free speech rights on public transit platforms.

Bricker objected on free speech grounds and said she called to the inspector from about 30 feet away, loudly enough to be heard without yelling.

The fare inspector gave her a 30-day exclusion, meaning she couldn’t ride, for excessive noise, The Oregonian newspaper reported Thursday.

Bricker works for the prominent Portland firm Stoel Rives, which has TriMet among its clients, the paper said.

Her complaint in U.S. District Court alleges the fare inspector violated her First Amendment rights, that it was what she said, not how loudly she said it that was objectionable.

She’s asking a judge to order the transit agency to clarify its rules and improve its training of inspectors.

The case began in October 2011. It has gone through a hearing officer, who upheld the suspension on the grounds that Bricker was disruptive enough to keep the inspector from doing his job.

In Multnomah County Circuit Court, a judge decided the free speech questions should be heard by a federal court.

Records show the inspector, Larry Boltjes, has testified that he was checking fares on the platform when an uncooperative man became “loud and abusive.”

The Portland system employs inspectors to make spot checks for riders who don’t pay fares.

Boltjes acknowledged telling Bricker it was “not her place to interject.” He said she was loud enough to draw the attention of about eight other people on the platform. When he went to talk to Bricker, the argumentative man ran away.

Bricker said Boltjes also told a bystander, incorrectly, that he wasn’t allowed to film the incident.

Portland lawyer Chip Paternoster says the agency’s code “doesn’t give a bright line of what it means to annoy or harass or make excessive noise.

“It doesn’t give what I’d call a classic fire-in-a-crowded-theater moment.”


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