Flint, MI — Residents and gun rights advocates seeking a halt to Flint City Hall’s new “gun-free zone” designation will have to wait a bit longer for a decision.
After hearing plaintiffs’ and the city’s arguments on Nov. 14, 2023, 7th Circuit Court Judge Brian S. Pickell told both parties he’d issue a ruling within the next few days.
In their brief, the plaintiffs — Flint residents Arthur Woodson, Trevor Berryhill and Beverly Briggs-Leavy along with Michigan Open Carry, Inc., the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners and Michigan Gun Owners — argued that Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Flint City Council violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by designating city hall a gun-free zone in October.
“The city has banned guns in city council meetings,” Thomas Lambert, the attorney representing Michigan Open Carry, Inc. explained to Flint Beat following the hearing. “The plaintiffs say you can’t do that.”
Therefore, he added, plaintiffs request “preliminary and permanent injunctive relief,” or a return to the status quo at city hall, while their case is litigated.
“It’s kind of an, ‘Okay everybody, hold on a second and go back to your corners, and let’s talk about this,’” Lambert said. “And then we’ll figure out what should happen long term.”
During the hearing, Lambert appeared virtually with a bevy of other plaintiffs’ lawyers to outline how Neeley and Flint City Council, summarized as “the city” for most of the discussion, had violated the OMA.
Among other arguments, Lambert noted that the city had violated the OMA by requiring that a member of the public “fulfill a condition precedent to attendance of the open meeting” and by thwarting the act’s assertion that a person not be excluded from an open meeting unless they cause a disturbance within that meeting.
Further, he said, the city’s space allocation agreement with the 67th District Court, which the city said made city hall subject to an order barring weapons and other impermissible items from the building, was a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers.
“It’s just a multitude of problems,” Lambert told Judge Pickell. “More importantly, while defendants have given the memorandum of understanding [with the 67th District Court], they have provided zero evidence whatsoever that the court in any way has requested space at this time … or that the court in any way has established presence as of today in city hall.”
On behalf of Neeley and Flint City Council, City Attorney William Kim noted that the OMA allows a public body to “establish reasonable rules and regulations in order to minimize the possibility of disrupting the meeting.”
“When we look at the reasonable rules and regulations clause, the question really becomes here, ‘how is that to be applied in this situation?’” said Kim, who appeared in-person at the hearing.
Kim said that that clause needed to be considered together with the rest of the OMA’s conditions, not as a statement that cannot “in any way limit the other provisions in the act.”
He called the plaintiffs’ claim to the contrary “patently absurd,” as it would mean a municipality could not set limitations on a public meeting’s attendance even based on room capacity or fire code safety.
Kim also said that the new agreement with the district court and city hall’s gun-free designation were a “developing situation,” so space allocation and security staffing needs are still being sorted out. But, he said, Flint is not the only city where a court shares space with city hall employees.
“There are several other municipalities that co-located court facilities with their city halls. In particular, the city of Detroit … their building has no firearms rules … and also the City of Lansing has district courts that have located in certain floors of their city hall, and so the whole city hall is subject to the authority of the courts,” Kim told the judge.
In response, the plaintiffs’ lawyers noted that for both Detroit and Lansing, the courts within those city hall buildings are permanently located there.
“It is not used on a ‘when we need it’ basis,” said Terry Johnson, Woodson’s attorney, of the shared court/city hall space in other municipalities. “As it was pointed out in the [city’s] memorandum of understanding [with the 67th District Court], my understanding is that they [the court] have to give notice that they want to use a particular space.”
Pickell asked both parties a host of questions regarding their arguments before closing the Nov. 14 hearing. He said he planned to issue a ruling on the plaintiffs’ injunction request ahead of Flint City Council’s next meeting, which will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 21.