Port Penn activist may sue state after Kent County court 
rules in his favor during civil liberties case that was dropped

March 15, 2001, 12:00 AM By Erin R. Wengerd, Middletown Transcript Staff Reporter

The next time Alan Muller heads to Legislative Hall, he might take a bodyguard with him.
Not a professional bodyguard, the executive director of Green Delaware clarified, but another person.

"Is it safe to go in there by oneself?" he asked, not quite jesting.

Muller, 51, was arrested Jan. 16 while sitting on the floor of the state's House of Representatives - a common practice for lobbyists. He was then barred from Legislative Hall as a condition of his bail.

But now he has free access to the hall again, after Kent County Court of Common Pleas Judge Merrill C. Trader threw out the criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct charges against Muller during a two-day trial in late February.

Attorney David Finger, who represented Muller on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union Delaware affiliate, was pleased by the judge's actions.

"I felt it didn't deserve to go to the jury," Finger said.

"It just once again affirms that the judiciary in Delaware is top notch and is very aware of the constitutional rights of its citizens," said Judy Mellen, executive director of the ACLU Delaware affiliate.

Mellen said in the 15 years she's been in the state, there have been no cases similar to Muller's.
"We don't find a lot of instances where Delaware, even the police, interferes with free speech," she said. " We're so small, I think that things don't happen without us all knowing about it, and I think that, at least in my tenure here, there have been very few instances where citizens' constitutional rights have been trampled upon in the manner that Mr. Muller's were."

Muller, who helped found Green Delaware in 1995 after being kicked out of the Sierra Club, is considering a civil suit against the state.

"Civil liberties have to be maintained by people willing to stick up for their rights, by being willing to say no sometimes," he said.

He has been arrested two other times for civil liberties and free speech issues, but in both cases the charges were dropped before trial.

The events

Muller, who headed to Dover to report on Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's inauguration for Green Delaware, gives the following description of the events leading up to his arrest.
"I went to the inauguration with a notebook and a camera," he said. "I was there to write a story."

Muller wandered into a reception in the Public Archives building, where he said a man first asked him if he had an invitation, and then asked him to leave.
"I said fine," Muller, of Port Penn, recalled. "I asked him for details of the event, who was putting it on, who rented the space."

When the man provided no answers, Muller said he left the reception and went across the street to Legislative Hall, where he talked to different people about the reception.

Then the activist headed back to the Archives Building lobby and asked to talk to someone who was responsible for the reception. After he was pushed from the lobby, he returned to Legislative Hall and noticed a Capital police officer following him. After being approached by Muller, the police officer asked him to step outside and requested to see his driver's license, then told him he was free to go.

He entered Legislative Hall again and sat down in the back of the House of Representatives, a normal procedure for lobbyists.

A police officer again asked him to step outside, and told him he was not allowed to sit there, but could go to the balcony.

"I told him I thought I was allowed to sit in there," said Muller. "He said he would arrest me if I did it."

After Muller sat down again in the House of Representatives, the police officer arrested him, he said.

"It was pretty clear to me I was being singled out and targeted because of the interests that Green Delaware represents," he said. Green Delaware is an independent environmental movement with an e-mail list of 1,000 people.

"A lot of what we're about, in my opinion, is holding up a big mirror to the state and just having people recognize where we are and what we are, "he said. "In many ways, Green Delaware's main function is to provide people with information, and of course we have our slant on it, but people can do with it what they want."

The aftermath

Now that the trial is over, Muller said there are several lessons that can be taken from it.
"To me, this illustrates something we're taught in school," he said. "Freedom is only maintained if people stand up for it."

But people who learn about his case may be intimidated, he said, afraid that the same thing might happen to them.

However, it may also show people that, in this case, freedom of speech prevailed.
"I don't think this case is really about me," Muller said. "It's about democracy, and that's why people have taken an interest in it."

In addition to the possibility of pursing a civil suit, Muller said he'd like the state to apologize to him and expunge his criminal arrest record.

He'd also like to add civil liberties training to the instruction that Delaware police officers receive, and to modify the rules of the House - which require that lobbyists sit in the balcony -to match common practice.

"Hopefully state officers will be willing to work with us to correct some of these problems, so they don't happen again to some other innocent citizen," he said.


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or contact
Alan J. Muller, Exec. Director
P.O. Box 69
Port Penn, DE 19731
302-834-3466 Voice
302-836-3005 FAX

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This page was last updated on  March 25, 2001.


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