Defense Says George W. Bush's Name Can't Be Used In Court

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Apparently President George W. Bush is now so unpopular that some lawyers believe the mere mention of his name in front of a jury could tip the scales against them.

Attorneys Michael P. Laffey and Robert P. DiDomenicis of Holsten & Associates in Media, Pa., are defending Upper Darby Township, Pa., in a civil rights suit brought by Harold Lischner, an 82-year-old doctor who claims he was falsely arrested for displaying an anti-war sign at a Bush campaign event in September 2003.

With the case set to go to trial on July 23, the defense lawyers recently filed a flurry of motions, including one that asked Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gene E.K. Pratter to prohibit the plaintiff from mentioning Bush’s name.

The motion in Lischner v. Upper Darby Township said that according to the latest Newsweek poll, Bush has "the worst approval rating of an American president in a generation," and that 62 percent of Americans believe that Bush's handling of the war in Iraq shows that he is "stubborn and unwilling to admit his mistakes."

Laffey and DiDomenicis argued that "the identity of George W. Bush has no relevance to plaintiff's claim and should not be admitted."

Any "probative value" of Bush's identity, they argued, "is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to defendant."

Bush's identity, they argued, "in and of itself, presents the danger that the jury will favor plaintiff."

As a result, the defense lawyers said, "it will be sufficient for plaintiff to testify that he displayed a sign in opposition of a 'presidential candidate.'"

In separate motions, the defense team urged Pratter to prohibit any mention of the First Amendment -- since Lischner's suit is premised only on the Fourth Amendment -- and to bar any testimony about the message on Lischner's protest sign.

In response, Lischner's lawyers -- David Rudovsky and Jonathan H. Feinberg of Kairys Rudovsky Messing & Feinberg -- complained that the defense team was asking for "extraordinary limits" that simply couldn't be justified.

According to court papers, Bush came to Upper Darby on Sept. 15, 2003, for an event with local supporters at the Drexelbrook Catering Facility, located within a privately owned residential community.

It was a private, by-invitation-only event, but Drexelbrook had designated an outdoor space on its property for members of the public to observe the arrival of the president's motorcade.

However, Drexelbrook Associates instructed the Upper Darby Police Department that neither protesting nor the displaying of signs would be permitted on its property.

Lischner, then 78 years old, was one of the 50 members of the public gathered along the driveway and had placed a torso-sized sign on the front of his chest with a message that stated: "Withdraw our troops from Iraq. Give the $87 billion to the Iraqi governing council and U.N. for immediate relief and repair of the destruction we caused."

The suit alleges that Kehrle told Lischner that no signs or demonstrators were permitted, and that he would have to leave the premises if he did not remove the sign. When Lischner repeatedly refused to remove the sign or leave, Kehrle arrested him on charges of defiant trespass.

Lischner was later found not guilty of disorderly conduct -- the crime with which he was eventually charged -- and filed a civil rights suit alleging that the arrest was without probable cause.

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