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Wednesday, May 22,2013

Farmers Market protester considering plea deal

By Jim Phillips
Photo Credits: Jim Phillips for The NEWS
Photo Caption: George Antczak appears in court Tuesday.

An Athens man who was arrested for staging a free-speech protest at the Athens Farmers Market May 4 indicated Tuesday that he's likely to accept a plea bargain offered him by the Athens city prosecutor's office.

George Antczak, 33, reported after an appearance in Athens County Municipal Court that the city has offered him a deal in which he will plead to a charge of trespassing, and be punished with a term of community service – probably 20 hours. If he completes the community service, he said, he's been told the charge will be dismissed, clearing his record.

Antczak said he is still considering whether to fight the trespassing charge on constitutional grounds, but is leaning toward accepting the deal.

"I think I'm going to just take the prosecutor's offer," he said. At Antczak's Tuesday court appearance, Judge Thomas Cornn scheduled his next hearing for Aug. 6.

The charge against Antczak stems from an incident in which he challenged a rule imposed on the Athens Farmers Market by the owners of the Market on State mall, who rent the mall parking lot to the market for vending space.

The mall owners, after learning that a group opposed to "fracking" for oil and gas planned to collect signatures on a petition to put a fracking-related ban on the ballot in the city of Athens, announced that they would no longer allow any political advocacy to take place at the market. They asserted that politics shouldn't be mixed with business.

Antczak, viewing this rule as an infringement of free-speech rights, challenged it by showing up at the market with a sign bearing the text of the First Amendment. He then walked up and down the market space reciting the amendment, and refused to leave when told to, first by market staff, then by Athens Police officers. He was arrested and charged with trespassing.

Antczak said Tuesday that it's his understanding that market officials have told authorities they're not interested in having the city pursue charges against him.

City Prosecutor James Stanley could not be reached for comment Wednesday on the reported plea bargain offer.


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