Conn. Libertarians receive $37K settlement in petitioner harassment suit

Dan Reale
Dan Reale

Libertarian political candidates in most states, including Connecticut, are required by law to collect far more petition signatures to qualify for ballot access than Democrats and Republicans must collect. In April, Libertarian Party candidate Dan Reale for U.S. House District 2 and gubernatorial candidate Rod Hancomb stood outside the entrance to the Daffodil Festival in Hubbard Park, which is owned by the city of Meridien, Conn. The two candidates were peacefully gathering some of their required 7,500 petition signatures, but Mayor Kevin Scarpati sent in the Meriden police to run them off under threat of criminal trespass — for merely petitioning in a public park.

Scarpati picked the wrong person to intimidate. Reale is not only running a Libertarian campaign for office, he also has a day job as a paralegal. He sued, representing himself.

“No access to the Festival was blocked or impeded nor was any crime or disruption being committed,” Reale said in his complaint. “The entire interaction with the public and those who chose to sign or not sign was happy, pleasant and otherwise the part of an ordinary spring day with all enjoying sunny weather and a public park.”

Reale’s lawsuit alleged that the purpose of their illegal ouster from a public park was “to protect the Democratic and Republican parties from competition on the ballot in the November 2018 general election,” and that “the same two parties were present and exercising their rights … within the Festival itself.”

Reale and Hancomb followed police orders and left the park. Later, Reale called the police department to ask what would happen if they returned to continue petitioning. “The desk sergeant informed him he would be arrested for ‘first degree’ criminal trespass, and otherwise be put at restriction of his liberty,” the complaint explained.

One of the effects of these unconstitutional attempts to quash the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian Party petitioners was to jeopardize ballot access in Connecticut before the November elections. With help from the Libertarian National Committee, however, Connecticut Libertarians were able to get on the ballot in time for the coming midterms.

When the Hartford Courant published a story about the lawsuit, the city ceased stalling the case with preliminary maneuvers and switched its tactics to settlement talks. The city may have been motivated to avoid having Mayor Scarpati testify under oath. Reale said he was ready to ask questions like, “So what makes you think you can just throw people out of a public park for exercising their First Amendment rights, like you did?”

Meridien ultimately settled the case by paying $5,000 to Reale and $32,000 to the Libertarian Party of Connecticut.

“The First Amendment actually matters,” Reale said after the settlement was announced. “We have confirmed that this isn’t Soviet Russia. So, you go after the First Amendment, you’ll pay the price.”

Most states have ballot access laws that discriminate against any candidate running for office outside the Republican or Democratic parties. Nevertheless, valiant petitioners have ensured that about 800 Libertarian Party candidates will be on the ballot this year in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Libertarians in the other three states that did not attain party ballot access are running as independents. One of the first things that Libertarian Party officeholders will do is liberalize ballot access laws, making them fair for all.