Source: BY RON SYLVESTER, The Wichita Eagle
Section: LOCAL & STATE
A jury took little more than 20 minutes Tuesday to find three Wichita residents not guilty of trespassing in charges stemming from a protest a year ago at the home of Wichita City Manager George Kolb.
“We can all sleep tonight, finally,” Katherine Perry Fisher said after the verdict. “I am happy, happy, happy.”
Perry Fisher lived next door to a property piled with trash at 10th and Volutsia. After more than 10 years of complaining to the city, she got the attention of Sunflower Community Action. She and members from the group decided to pay Kolb a visit on a Saturday afternoon. Kolb asked the city to charge Perry Fisher and Sunflower leaders J.J. Selmon and Louis Goseland with trespassing and illegal dumping, because the group of more than a dozen left their protest signs scattered across his lawn on Dec. 9, 2006.
After an afternoon’s testimony Monday and closing arguments Tuesday morning, the jury of three men and three women announced their verdict about 11 a.m. before Sedgwick County District Judge Joe Kisner.
Afterward, jurors declined to comment.
Kolb, who resigned as city manager last month, declined to comment on the case, as he had since it began.
Lawyers for Perry Fisher, Selmon and Goseland told jurors that two videos of the protest did not show Sandra Kolb asking the protesters to leave the property.
The soft-spoken Sandra Kolb testified Monday that she asked the group to leave her and her husband’s property that day. She contended that her voice can be heard on a video that had been posted on YouTube and played for the jury.
“We could hear the other things she said on the videos very clearly,” Steve Mank, Perry Fisher’s lawyer, said in his closing arguments. “But we didn’t hear her tell them to leave.”
“You have to assess the credibility of Mrs. Kolb,” Steve Robison, a private Wichita lawyer hired by the city to prosecute the case, argued to the jury.
Mank, lawyer Chris O’Hara and lawyer John Rapp argued repeatedly about the group’s right to protest the actions of government. Robison contended that right doesn’t extend to the Kolbs’ front door.
“Just because her husband is city manager doesn’t mean Mrs. Kolb doesn’t have a right to protection under the law,” Robison said. The jury’s verdict overturned a conviction for trespassing handed down by a visiting judge last summer in Municipal Court. The same judge acquitted Perry Fisher, Selmon, Goseland and another Sunflower member on a charge of illegal dumping.
Defendants may appeal their Municipal Court convictions in district court, where they may try their case in front of a judge or jury. “Even though the judge was assigned to hear the case, he was still paid by the city,” Goseland said Tuesday of the summer trial at City Hall. “And the city manager controls the finances.
“We were glad to come in here and have an impartial jury hear our case,” Goseland said. “And we hope this will serve as a precedent for others who want to protest the action by the city.”
In May, the city decided to tear down the vacant house. In July, demolition crews razed it at a cost to the city of about $12,000.
Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wichita city attorney’s office filed the charges against three people found not guilty of trespassing, stemming from a protest last year at the home of City Manager George Kolb. A story on Page 1B on Wednesday incorrectly stated how the charges were filed.