Kann's conviction overturned
After Ms. Kim Kann was convicted of disorderly conduct in a July hearing resulting from events in April, she appealed her case. Though the appeal hearing was originally scheduled for a date in October, a scheduling conflict came up, and Kann’s anticipation for the whole ordeal grew.
It reached its climax today in courtroom four of the Lancaster County Courthouse.
Judge Louis Farina presided over the hearing, which involved a 24-minute video recording displaying the events from a Conestoga Township meeting in April. Kann had many friends in attendance.
Those friends gathered together just before 10 o’clock this morning in the Courthouse lobby in support of Kann. Although not necessarily familiar with the legal processes, spirits were high as they exchanged stories and handshakes. This loyal crowd included a few photographers, Kann’s middle school social studies teacher, several people who spoke at the same meeting at which Kann was arrested, and an LNP reporter. Kann explained that the hearing was really about standing up for what’s right, which is exactly what she sought to do in the courtroom.
|Among Kann's supporters in attendance
was a middle school social studies
teacher, pictured here
Photo courtesy of Ms. Kann
The first three witnesses called to the stand were police officers who were at the meeting in question. John Fiorill, Chief of Southern Regional Police, and Officers Adam Cramer and Shaun Powell had been in uniform and displaying their badges as they patrolled the public meeting hosted by township supervisors meant to inform citizens about home rule. There were between 150 and 200 people in attendance, according to a sign-in sheet. Upon entering, residents were given rules which required them to only ask questions and not make comments, as it was to be an educational meeting only.
The officers each explained their encounters with Kann. She was asked to stop talking by township supervisor and meeting moderator Craig Eshelman because she refused to ask questions, and rather made statements. At this point, the officers entered and asked Kann to sit down. They escorted her away from the microphone, but she was cited for disorderly conduct because the crowd was becoming unruly, and she kept repeating, “I have a First Amendment right to speak."
Officer Cramer explained that it was his own prerogative to arrest her, not Eshelman’s instruction that he “wanted her to leave”. The officers led Kann out, believing that she caused a disruption in the meeting.
The fourth witness was Craig Eshelman himself. It was no secret that Eshelman did not like the idea of home rule. Evidence was presented that indicated a sign that was in his lawn read, “No Home Rule: Don’t Bankrupt the Township”.
At this point, Kann’s attorney laid down his final form of evidence: a video one of Kann's friends took from the question-and-answer part of the meeting. The video clearly shows eight speakers before, only some of whom ask questions. When Kann gets up to the mic, she explains that she has a few misrepresentations to clear up before she asks her questions. However, halfway into this, she is interrupted by Eshelman, and asked to sit down. She says that she has a right to speak, and police officers Cramer and Powell approach as some members of the audience clap.
At one point in the video, Eshelman comments, “You have no First Amendment right here.”
The video immediately was strong evidence to Kann's innocence. The speakers before her definitely made comments, asked rhetorical questions, or held lengthy conversations. However, no one but Kann was kicked out. Her comments were on topic, briefly clarifying a few points, such as that in the election they would be voting for a study of home rule, not the implementation of home rule. She also explained that the Conestoga Community Group, in favor of home rule, was given limited notice to find a speaker to articulate its beliefs.
The requirements were that the speaker had to be nonbiased and nonpolitical, which really narrowed the pool. Because they could not find a speaker within 24 hours, they were not represented at the meeting.
In his closing statement, her attorney confessed, “I think this couldn’t be a clearer case. Disorderly conduct cannot be used to punish someone for their opinion.”
The judge finally ruled that Kann was on topic and had a right to speak at a public meeting. Her behavior was not violent or aggressive, and it did not cause unreasonable noise. She never even refused to leave the meeting.
Although it appears that the hearing was about differing opinions, it really came down to the freedom of speech. Ms. Kim Kann was found not guilty of disorderly conduct. She will continue to inform others of the truth, and wants her students to know that “it’s important to always do the right thing even when it’s not easy.”
--Alyssa Van Lenten, LSNews.org Local Editor