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Witness for the Defense

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Lozman tried to question me again but was quickly shot down by the judge, and it was soon over. He was clearly outmatched by Roberts and Renner, but there was something admirable — almost noble — about the effort.

I left the stand almost wishing I'd said more. Almost. Mostly, I was relieved to finally get to watch the trial and take notes. And from there, I got to see a few entertaining snapshots of life at the marina.

The former Coast Guard officer, Sandra Brammeier, told the jury of hearing "a really strange noise" once while on her boat. It was Lozman's cat, which had fallen into the water. Brammeier leapt from her boat and saved the feline, but not without suffering injury.

"I must have kicked a barnacle or something," she testified. "I just about cut off a toe."

Otherwise, she'd had no run-ins with Lozman's animals other than friendly interaction with the always leashed wiener dog. Not so with some other larger dogs who saunter about the dock unleashed.

"There's a black Lab that hikes its leg on my rinse-spin every time it walks by," she said, prompting a few laughs from the jury.

At one point, Lozman, who doesn't know most points of law from points of toast, pulled out a list of the 20 most common objections. Then he began to randomly call them out as Roberts conducted his cross-examinations, trying to give the old bard a taste of his own medicine.

"Objection, scope," Lozman would say.

"Objection, leading."

"Objection, compound question."

At least Lozman was having some fun. And he had some impressive moments. Carter, the former marina director who evicted him, took the stand as a hostile witness and admitted that he'd gotten a new job since leaving the city — at Viking, the master developer chosen by the city for the $2.4 billion plan challenged by Lozman.

Lozman's closing statement was downright inspired, and his closing line was brilliant: "What makes America beautiful is our freedoms. Don't let them take those away from me."

The jury had to answer yes or no to two questions that would decide the case: Did the city violate Lozman's freedom of speech? And would he have been evicted were it not for his political activity?

A "yes" and a "no," respectively, would mean a Lozman victory. I didn't know how the jury would rule, but I knew that if it had really listened, it would rule against the city. Even though Lozman had no formal legal training and went up against two hired legal guns (I haven't been able yet to get figures, but I'm betting the city spent more than $30,000 on the eviction), he'd won the thing. The facts were on his side.

And Roberts didn't seem too confident. When I asked him how he felt about the case, he said, with a wry smile he's very adept at making, "I'll know that when we hear from the jury."

After 151 minutes of deliberation, the jury came to a decision. Its answers: yes and no.

Lozman won. He jumped up and hugged his friend (and unofficial law clerk) Pepper Newman. It may have seemed obvious that city officials had abused their power, but the fact that the jury actually confirmed it was still stunning. "This is a victory for all Americans," Lozman said afterward, before he popped a bottle of Cristal in his houseboat in the marina he could still call home.

Grandiose words, but I damned well agreed. This would be in the law books forever and might someday help some other citizen crazy enough to use the Bill of Rights. I didn't regret my testimony, for whatever it was worth. I just knew that I'd never do it again except for one hell of a case — something worthy of City of Riviera Beach vs. Fane Lozman.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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