PORTLAND — Occupy Maine will file a lawsuit Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court claiming that the city’s threat to remove the group’s encampment from Lincoln Park would violate protesters’ constitutional rights, the group’s attorney said Sunday evening.

Occupy Maine also will file a motion for a preliminary injunction to block city officials from acting on a notice to vacate the park by noon Monday until a judge decides the group’s fate, said John Branson, a lawyer and member of the group.

Branson said he will file the documents soon after the courthouse opens at 8 a.m. The group will hold a news conference on the courthouse steps, facing the park, at noon.

“We’re asking the court to maintain the status quo until our case is resolved,” Branson said. “The city has promised that until the court rules, they will not remove people from the park.”

Branson said the protest relies on the group’s ability to sustain a continuous assembly, despite a city ordinance that bars people from the park from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“It’s just the nature of the demonstration,” he said. “To apply that code provision to this group basically bans their form of protest.”

The City Council recently rejected the group’s application for a permit to stay in the park. On Thursday, city officials sent a letter to Branson and posted a notice to vacate the park by noon Monday, unless the group filed a lawsuit against the city as members said they would.

The city would have 21 days to repond in writing to the group’s court filings, Branson said. The group, in turn, would have seven days to answer the city’s response before a judge would schedule a hearing.

Monday’s noon deadline wasn’t a concern for protesters in the park on Sunday afternoon. They said they’re prepared to wait through the court process.

A bigger worry was the cold weather, with temperatures in the teens early Sunday morning and expected to dip to about 10 degrees Sunday night.

“My shoes were frozen solid,” said Matt Jones, a camper from Portland.

But protesters said the cold snap won’t discourage them any more than the city’s eviction notice.

“Everybody will be acclimated after a few days.” said Ray Woodburn Jr. as he made some coffee in the pantry tent Sunday.

Occupy Maine is part of an international movement against corporate greed and socioeconomic injustice.

Occupy Maine’s legal action sets it apart from protesters in Augusta and Boston, Branson said. In neither of those cases did protesters seek permission to stay where they were, he said.

“In Boston, the judge called it a hostile takeover of land. Neither group thought they had any obligation to apply or be put under a permitting structure,” Branson said.

The Occupy Maine camp has been in Lincoln Park since early October. City officials allowed it there after rejecting the protesters’ attempts to pitch tents in Monument Square.

Occupy Maine’s lawsuit will address the lack of public space available after 1 a.m. for First Amendment activity, Branson said. For the most part, people aren’t allowed in Portland’s public parks after 10 p.m. – the exceptions being the 1 a.m. closures for Tommy’s Park and Post Office Park, he said.

Branson said Occupy Maine will argue that the ordinance is overly broad and that the City Council’s rejection of the group’s permit demonstrates a lack of flexibility, in contrast to, for example, the ability of developers of commercial projects to seek variances.

The city’s lawyer said he was not comfortable commenting on Occupy Maine’s legal arguments before reading the complaint. Gary Wood said his analysis of other Occupy legal cases seems to indicate that courts have refused to extend First Amendment rights to encampments.

He said the cases he has reviewed suggest that even when the First Amendment applies to encampments, government restrictions on time, place and manner have been deemed reasonable.

Portland officials are taking every possible reasonable step to avoid the type of conflicts that have occurred at Occupy encampments elsewhere, Wood said.

“We want to stay as far away from that as we could while still furthering our responsibility to enforce the city and state laws and protect public health, welfare and safety – including the public health, welfare and safety of the people in the park,” he said.

Wood said he believes the courts are the right place to resolve such questions. He said it’s difficult for policy makers to determine the scope and reach of constitutional rights.

“That’s something everybody really needs court guidance on. That’s what courts are good at,” he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]