KEENE — The “Robin Hooders” appeared in court Tuesday afternoon to answer to accusations that they have been harassing city parking meter officers.
Cheshire County Superior Court Judge John Kissinger, however, continued the case, giving both sides 20 days to submit more arguments.
The city filed a lawsuit May 2 against six citizens who have dubbed themselves Robin Hood of Keene and are associated with the Free Keene group. They patrol downtown armed with video cameras and pockets full of change to fill expired parking meters — before a city parking enforcement officer can issue a ticket.
The city is asking the court to prohibit residents Kate Ager, Ian Bernard aka Ian Freeman, James Cleaveland, Graham Colson, Garrett Ean and Peter Eyre from coming within 50 feet of the city’s three parking enforcement officers “during the performance of their employment duties for the city.”
On Tuesday, five in the group said they have not been harassing city employees; Eyre said he has never participated.
Kissinger said the extension would give both sides more time to speak to the “serious legal issues” of “standing” as well as the “constitutionality” issue raised by members of the Robin Hood group.
“The issue from my perspective is I need to understand what they are saying,” Kissinger said of the claim the city’s civil suit is unconstitutional. “You haven’t made a direct constitutional claim.”
Kissinger said a full day would have to be scheduled for the trial, since the city alone wants to present five witnesses, including the three parking enforcement officers.
Freeman said he objected to the six “Robin Hooders” being lumped into one group.
“We are all individuals and we all have our individual motivations,” Freeman said.
City Attorney Thomas P. Mullins told Kissinger the city may amend its suit to address the “collective” issue.
Freeman added that the city never approached any of the six with concerns before filing the suit and has refused to meet and negotiate.
“I think they brought this case in bad faith,” Freeman said to Kissinger.
Cleaveland and Freeman said they plan to submit motions to support their claims that the city is violating rights laid out in article 8 of the state constitution — government employees are at all times accountable to the people.
State Rep. Mark Warden of Goffstown said he attended Tuesday’s hearing because as a fiscal conservative, he is concerned with government waste.
“It was a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money,” he said.
Warden said the city should do a better job training its parking enforcement officers.
“These people from what I’ve seen on the videos are peaceful,” Warden said of the Robin Hooders. “They are relativity courteous and just trying to help educate them in seeing a different side of the issue. And I think anybody that works for the state, the taxpayers, should be willing to have those kind of discussions without feeling threatened.”
The lawsuit does not deny the group’s right to video tape and takes no issue with the filling of expired parking meters. The concern is the parking officers are being harassed and will quit. The city said it would suffer financially from having to hire and train new employees, and might have difficulty finding people to take the jobs because of the conditions created by the six.
According to Parking Enforcement Officer Alan E. Givetz in the suit, the “constant harassment” has made him “feel very stressed and anxious.”
“In addition, I have begun to suffer physical effects due to the stress, including coming home from work with a red face, feeling heart palpitations, and having dreams related to this activity.”