PORTLAND — The impasse between city officials and Occupy Maine protesters who are camping in Lincoln Park is expected to shift soon from the City Council chambers to a courtroom.

The protesters will meet Sunday to decide whether to sue Portland, claiming that the city is violating their First Amendment right to free speech by not providing a permit for their encampment in the park.

The group also could seek an injunction to prevent the city from trying to evict the protesters from the park.

This week, two Occupy groups in other cities lost similar legal cases.

In Boston, a state judge refused to issue an injunction to prevent the city from forcing protesters from Dewey Square. In Augusta, a federal judge ruled that the protesters could not stay in Capitol Park without a state permit.

Shortly before midnight Wednesday, the Portland City Council voted 8-1 to deny a permit that would have allowed Occupy Maine’s encampment to remain in Lincoln Park despite city ordinances that prohibit it.

City officials told Occupy Maine’s attorney that the city will not try to oust the protesters from the park before the group decides on its next move. Mayor Michael Brennan said Thursday that the city believes Occupy Maine will probably make its decision by early next week.

“We want to allow that process to unfold,” Brennan said after meeting with other city officials and Occupy Maine’s attorney, John Branson.

Brennan said he told Branson that the city would help find housing for Occupy Maine protesters if they left the park. He proposed creating a mayor’s task force to address issues of income inequality, homelessness and the need for a 24-hour free speech zone in Portland — core issues to Occupy Maine.

“I’d like to get beyond this encampment issue and talk about the more substantive issues” behind the Occupy movement, Brennan said. “Maybe Occupy Maine might say they like the task force and recognize the other court rulings and (decide) this would be the best scenario.”

Branson, however, said the City Council’s vote against the permit indicates that Portland is more concerned about working cooperatively with businesses than with people carrying “the controversial message this group has.”

He said the permit proposal addressed city officials’ concerns about health and safety in the encampment, and Occupy Maine “bent over backwards” to find common ground with the city, but the council didn’t budge.

“That’s not the approach (city officials) take with large developers and corporate interests that come before them all the time,” Branson said.

Protesters made preparations before Wednesday’s council meeting for a confrontation with police, but Lincoln Park was quiet Thursday.

Macy Lamson of Augusta said she would like to stay in Lincoln Park through the winter, but some protesters are looking for somewhere to stay indoors through the cold weather.

Some protesters are talking about disbanding and regrouping in the spring, when the movement’s ranks could be bolstered by college students, she said.

“A lot of us want to stay here, including me,” Lamson said.

Lamson said she will be ready if the city forces protesters out of the park.

“I always have one bag packed in case I have to hightail it out of here,” she said.

The group had discussed meeting Thursday night to decide on its next step. However, it decided to wait until Sunday because more people would be able to meet, said Matthew Coffey, 33, a protester. The meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m.

“We want as many people’s opinions to be heard as possible,” Coffey said.

Coffey said he wants to invite protesters to Portland from other closed-down Occupy Wall Street encampments, including those in Boston and New York.

“We want to make a stand here,” he said. “Bring on the troops.”

Portland’s acting Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said police are “in a holding pattern” with Occupy Maine and want to avoid any confrontation.

He said the city “never wanted this to go into any kind of forced eviction. It may end up there, but that’s not our intention.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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