Judge's order could force Pittsburgh protesters to move

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2012 7:18 PM
Judge's order could force Pittsburgh protesters to move

By Matt Stroud

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday issued an order that could force the anti-Wall Street protesters in Pittsburgh to leave the Mellon Square property they have inhabited since October.

The order by Allegheny County Judge Christine Ward gives protesters three days to clear out once BNY Mellon, which owns the park, files a $10,000 bond with the court.

"There is no zoning, constitutional, statutory or common law ground that permits a group of people to take over someone else's private property as taken over BNY Mellon's property here, and effectively prevent the owner from closing its property," the judge's order read.

The judge noted that BNY Mellon does not pay for snow or ice removal at the park and Occupy Pittsburgh's presence "creates liability exposure" even though the protesters have agreed to remove snow and ice themselves.

Similar protests against social and economic inequality in other U.S. cities have been shut down by police, although protesters in the nation's capital are still battling efforts to force them to leave two parks where they have lived for months.

Inspired by the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East, Occupy Wall Street began when protesters set up camp in New York in September, sparking demonstrations across the United States and elsewhere in the world and, in a few cases, violent clashes with police.

But evictions in various U.S. cities in November and December has made the protests less visible.

In Pittsburgh, a spokeswoman for BNY Mellon, Lane Cigna, said: "We're pleased with the judge's ruling."

She did not indicate when the bond might be filed.

BNY Mellon has argued that Occupy Pittsburgh's presence causes "irreparable harm" and has cost the investment bank as much as $100,000 in property damages.

Torry Seeley, 38, representing Occupy Pittsburgh, said the group had no comment on the judge's order.

Some 30 tents are set up at Mellon Park, where members of the Occupy Pittsburgh movement have camped since October. Occupy Pittsburgh members say 10 to 15 people stay there every night.

"To me it's more about what we do rather than whether or not we're set up at this camp," said Bud Ferguson, a 21-year-old protester.

Protesters said they are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks during the recession allowed a return to huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.

An attorney for the group, Marvin Fein, said the judge's order was unexpected.

"I'm very disappointed in it," he said. "To force Occupy out, Mellon needed to prove that we had produced irreparable harm and I think they failed to do that."

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)