Prosecutors drop disorderly conduct charge vs NHGOP ‘chicken’

So much for the flap over the NHGOP chicken.

 

Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge against state Republican Party Michael Zona on Monday, when he had been scheduled to appear in court to face the charges. He is a free man (and a free chicken).

 

Zona had been arrested at the Londonerry Old Home Day Parade on Aug. 16 for allegedly interfering with the path of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, who had been marching. He had been told to “cease and desist” several times, but when he allegedly did not, he was arrested.

 

He has been following Shaheen to events to emphasize the party’s allegation that Shaheen is “too chicken” to hold town hall meetings with constituents. The Shaheen campaign has maintained that the senator has held several events in which she has listened to constituents’ concerns, by telephone and in person.

 

Zona had maintained that he did nothing wrong and was exercising his rights under the First Amendment. The charges will also be annulled.

 

Zona’s attorney, Chuck Keefe, said Zona never actually appeared before a judge.

 

He said he had met with the prosecutor, “and we discussed the evidence in the case and whether it amounted to a crime. Ultimately, after reviewing the evidence, the prosecutor agreed no crime was committed.”

 

Keefe said, “This was an unnecessary experience and a waste of my client’s time, and a waste of resources that it even came this far. We were confident moving forward and are glad the prosecutor recognized that no crime was committed.”

 

 

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union took an interest in the case, although it did not end up representing Zona.

 

“We are very pleased with the dismissal of the charges against Mr. Zona,” said the NHCLU in a statement issued by staff attorney Gilles Bissonnette. “We did not formally represent Mr. Zona, but we consulted with the New Hampshire GOP on this important case.

 

“We are happy that the State appeared to take seriously the First Amendment issues concerning Mr. Zona’s arrest.  While it is both appropriate and necessary to keep our elected politicians safe from harm, this does not mean that law enforcement has the right to suppress peaceful, non-threatening speech that is protected under the First Amendment by calling it ‘disorderly conduct.’  Arresting a person is a very serious act that has real consequences on a person’s life, and we hope law enforcement continue to consider these fundamental principles before they take the ultimate step of depriving a person of his or her liberty.”

 

 

In a statement after the charges were dropped, NHGOP chair Jennifer Horn said, “Michael was exercising his First Amendment right to express his point of view and highlight Jeanne Shaheen’s unwillingness to defend her record of voting with President Obama 99 percent of the time at open town hall meetings. We are extremely pleased with this decision and look forward to Michael’s continued contributions to our party.

 

“It has been 740 days since Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s last town hall meeting. It’s time for Shaheen to stop hiding from her constituents and respect New Hampshire’s tradition of open and accessible government,” Horn said.

 

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly reported that there were two disorderly conduct charges against Zona.)

 

Author: John DiStaso

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