More than two dozen participants of Occupy Tucson left their campground at Veinte de Agosto Park Monday to descend on Pima County Superior Court, where foreclosed homes were being auctioned off.
The chanting and sign-waving demonstration came just hours after the protesters staved off a judge's order that would have prevented them from returning to the park once they've been cited by police.
In a related development, City Councilwoman Regina Romero announced she will ask the council to order the police to stop citing protesters for violating the park curfew and to direct the Parks Department to waive the curfew and any park-use permit fees. The council will hold a closed meeting on the request today.
Since the protest started a month ago, police have issued more than 500 park-curfew citations, including 41 over the three-day Veterans Day weekend.
Every weekday, real estate agents and investors purchase foreclosed homes being auctioned off on the courthouse steps.
On Monday the protesters marched from the park, just across West Congress Street, and climbed the steps of the courthouse, chanting "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!" and other slogans.
Courthouse security personnel asked the group to retreat to the sidewalk, called police and took up positions near the crowd.
The auction went on despite the effort to disrupt it.
"They are picketing the wrong people. They should go over to the (Bank of America), who are actually doing the foreclosing. They are right across the street," said real estate agent Chris McLean.
Dianna Fischer, another real estate agent, agreed, saying, "They're shooting the wrong messenger. Some of these people are buying houses and making loans to people who can't get deals with the banks. There are also investors buying houses that would normally be left vacant and renting them back to people who have lost their houses and at reasonable rates."
Tucson Police Sgt. Maria Hawke said officers received reports the crowd was being "extraordinarily loud and disrupting some court proceedings."
The group was moved to the sidewalk so people could readily enter and leave the courthouse, Hawke said. She said the same rule would apply to anyone impeding access.
Defense attorney Paul Gattone, who represents several protesters, said they are considering picketing the auction daily. As long as the protesters stick to the sidewalk and don't impede the business of the courthouse, they are well within their legal rights, he said.
"This was just an extension of what the whole Occupy movement is about," he said.
Robbie Abalos, an Occupy Tucson spokesman, said he believes the auctions are "an exploitation of the working class."
"Basically, Arizona families are getting kicked out of their houses for profit by people that are buying them," Abalos said.
Earlier on Monday, Gattone said Tucson City Magistrate and presiding judge Tony Riojas issued an order stating Occupy Tucson protesters who are cited for violating the park curfew cannot return to the park as a condition of their release from custody. However, Gattone said Riojas agreed to stay his order to give Gattone and other attorneys time to file a special action with the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Since the protest began Oct. 16, protesters have been cited and released. But if Riojas' order goes into effect, protesters could be arrested and/or cited for interfering with judicial proceedings, Gattone said.
Penalties for the curfew violation, a Class 1 criminal misdemeanor, can be as much as a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Occupy Tucson members are still waiting to get a hearing date in U.S. District Court on a lawsuit filed last week alleging that the city's curfew law chills free speech and freedom of assembly protections under the federal and state constitutions.
Romero said she wants the city to make special allowances for Occupy Tucson because "I ... support them in concept and action," saying "the excesses of our financial institutions have been the driving force behind this economic recession."
Continuing to cite protesters puts an extreme burden on both the police and court system, she said.
Romero said she also wants the city to move as much of its money as feasible out of larger financial institutions and into local credit unions.
The council will discuss the matter in closed session after 3:30 at City Hall, 255 W. Alameda St.
Star reporter Veronica Cruz contributed to this report. Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org