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Occupy protesters drop lawsuit over camping out

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Occupy Wall Street protesters have dropped a lawsuit challenging their eviction from Zuccotti Park, two months after they were rousted from their encampment by police during a surprise late-night raid.

Protesters decided to abandon the lawsuit after police earlier this month removed barricades that surrounded most of the park, permitting "unfettered access to the park for free speech activities," Alan Levine, a lawyer for the movement, said on Monday.

In bringing the lawsuit, the protesters, who spent two months camping out in a demonstration against economic inequality, had argued that sleeping overnight represented a form of free speech.

Lawyers for the city and for Brookfield Properties, the company that owns the plaza in lower Manhattan, countered that generators, wooden pallets, and electrical wires created a dangerous condition at the park that had to be remedied.

State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman previously denied the protesters' request for an injunction against the city the day after the raid, agreeing with Brookfield that its rules against tents, sleeping bags, and people lying down were reasonable restrictions to maintain a clean and orderly park.

Levine maintained on Monday that camping is a form of free expression but acknowledged the protesters seem disinclined to return to Zuccotti Park with tents. Protesters dropped the suit on Friday.

"Nobody seems to care about that anymore," he said. "We're not about to try to litigate that issue in the abstract. I suspect it will recur as an issue, and when it does, we'll be prepared to litigate it."

In a statement, city attorney Sheryl Neufeld said, "We think the plaintiff made the right move in withdrawing her case, as it has no merit."

A lawyer for Brookfield did not return a request for comment.

The case was complicated by the unusual status of Zuccotti Park, which is privately owned but must be kept open to the public at all times under a zoning deal struck between Brookfield and the city decades ago.

Without the late-night curfews that are in effect in city-owned public parks, protesters argued that there was no legal authority to remove them at night. But Brookfield said it had the right to promulgate rules of conduct for the plaza.

The named plaintiff in the lawsuit was Jennifer Waller, an Occupy Wall Street protester.

Meanwhile, the criminal court system continues to churn through nearly 2,000 Occupy-related cases, mostly protesters arrested during marches and rallies and charged with minor offenses, such as disorderly conduct.

Approximately half of the cases being handled by the Manhattan district attorney's office have been resolved, many in deals that erase the charges from protesters' records as long as they are not arrested for six months.

Other protesters have vowed to take their cases to trial.

(Editing by Paul Thomasch)

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