City Ordinance Involved Penalty If Public Members Remain In A Public Park After Sunset.
In Coke v. City of Sacramento, Case No. C072866 (3d Dist. Feb. 5, 2015) (unpublished), Ms. Coke successfully challenged a $300 administrative penalty assessed against her for violating a City ordinance prohibiting the public from remaining in a public park after sunset. Earlier, she had been prosecuted for a criminal violation of the same ordinance but the City dismissed the criminal action before notifying her of the administrative fines. A trial court in a mandate writ proceeding vacated the $300 penalty on the ground Penal Code section 1387 prohibited a second prosecution for the same offense.
Ms. Coke then moved to recover attorney’s fees under CCP § 1021.5, California’s private attorney general statute. The lower court denied the request, based on the failure to show that an important public right was vindicated or significant benefit conferred on the public.
The Third District affirmed. No vindication of any First Amendment free speech right resulted from the vacatur of the administrative penalty; instead, plaintiff obtained a technical “victory” based upon a variant double jeopardy type of ruling. Although the case may have sent a “cautionary message to City,” there was no evidence of a widespread practice of imposing administrative penalties after dismissal of criminal charges—put another way, nice win for party of one, but no showing of an impact on a broader set of persons.