The state’s highest court has ruled that protesters who went around following parking attendants and feeding meters in Keene cannot be sued for damages.
Tuesday's decision states these so-called "Robin Hooders" are protected under the First Amendment as long as their actions remain nonviolent.
But the New Hampshire Supreme Court; however, did send the case back to a lower court, arguing that a superior court judge in 2013 failed to consider whether the city had the right to create a buffer zone to protect parking attendants.
The city argued these so-called Robin Hooders, affiliated with the libertarian Free Keene movement, were going around harassing workers, at times bumping into them and yelling profanities at them.
These activists are known around Keene for feeding parking meters as well as leaving cards on windshields with at picture of Robin Hood reading, "Your meter expired! However, we saved you from the king's tarriff!"
The protesters' attorney Jon Meyer says this is a mixed decision but a win for free speech.
“The opinion speaks very strong terms about the fact that their expression was protected, whether you agree with them or not, and you can’t then essentially intimidate them by suing them for damages.”
Meanwhile attorney Robert Dietel, who represents the city, also applauds the decision saying it opens the door for a judge to establish a buffer zone to protect workers against individuals who are “engaging in conduct that is taunting, harassing and intimidating to city employees.” Dietel says the city will be asking the lower court to consider a 15-foot buffer zone.
But Robin Hooder Ian Freeman says he doubts such a buffer zone would be granted. "To go back and look at this one issue, in my opinion is to delay the inevitable. What the city is asking for is clearly unconstitutional," he said referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, which struck down buffer zones around abortion clinics.
Hearings on the case are expected to begin sometime this summer. But regardless, Freeman says "Robin Hooding" in Keene will continue.