ALBANY, N.Y. A trial judge has ruled that anti-war demonstrators have the right to protest outside a military recruiting station at a Kingston-area mall but not too close, and only once a week.
The King's Mall in Ulster County asked a state judge to ban weekly protests in front of the recruiting station, claiming the group was disturbing customers and hurting business at neighboring stores. The mall sought the preliminary injunction after the county prosecutor dropped trespassing charges against Jay Wenk and Joan Keefe, two World War II-era veterans who led the protests.
Wenk, Keefe and the other protesters argued that they had a First Amendment right to protest outside a government office, even if it's in a privately owned mall.
State Supreme Court Justice Vincent Bradley in Kingston ruled on Nov. 3 that while there is no guaranteed First Amendment right to demonstrate on private property, the presence of a government office at the mall changes matters slightly.
"As the defendants emphasize, they are protesting at the mall because it is where the recruiting office is located," Bradley said.
But Bradley noted the protests have hurt business at the mall, which retains a "predominantly commercial character." The judge's solution: Protesters can demonstrate on Saturdays, from noon to 2 p.m., and only on the sidewalk outside the glass-fronted mall.
"The judge gave, and the judge took away," said Wenk, who called the ruling "not at all satisfactory."
Wenk, 80, noted that protests had been suspended since September and that it would be harder to demonstrate outside in the winter.
"In a very short time, the weather is going to get awful," he said.
Stephen Bergstein, one of the defense lawyers, said he was not sure if any court had ruled this favorably on freedom of speech at private malls, but he thought the court should have gone further. Wenk said he wanted to appeal the preliminary injunction.
A lawyer for the mall did not return a call seeking comment in time for this story.