Federal court rejects bikers’ free speech case against Gilroy Garlic Festival

Jessie Bravo, a Top Hatters' founder, is seen in this file

Today a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled against
four Hollister motorcyclists who have spent the last eight years
arguing that the Garlic Festival violated their free speech
rights.
Today a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled against four Hollister motorcyclists who have spent the last eight years arguing that the Garlic Festival violated their free speech rights.

An 11-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit voted 6-5 to dismiss the ongoing lawsuit that the bikers filed after a festival-hired Gilroy police officer asked them to remove their vests or leave the event July 30, 2000. An unwritten dress code policy barred gang colors or insignia, including motorcycle club insignia; the bikers’ vests had patches of winged skulls sporting top hats along with the words “Top Hatters” and “Hollister.”

The appeals court decided that the private festival did not amount to a government entity robbing the bikers of their constitutional rights.

“It’s obviously very good news,” Garlic Festival Association Executive Director Brian Bowe said Wednesday.

While the court’s five-member minority called for more trial court proceedings, today’s ruling was the third such rejection since 2005. That sends a clear message for Gregory Simonian, the festival’s attorney.

“We’ve been waiting for this decision for long time. We have won at every phase of the litigation, and for that, I’m very happy,” Simonian said. “I don’t know what (the bikers’) reaction is going to be.”

A lawyer for the motorcycle club could not be reached for comment, but the plaintiffs have spent the past few years winding through the courts.

A federal judge in San Jose dismissed the lawsuit in 2005, and a three-judge panel of the same appeals court that ruled today decided last year that the vests were not expressions of free speech because the four bikers could not consistently define the symbols.

To read the court decision, click here.

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