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Festival organizer wins settlement
    #4084260 - 04/22/05 10:42 AM (15 years, 10 months ago)

Move stems from county putting end to Weedstock

By Brain Bridgeford

News Republic

Thursday April 21, 2005

Sauk County's insurance company will pay $95,000 to the organizer of a pro-pot rally for shutting down his event in May of 2000.

The payment to Ben Masel is for damages and legal costs to cover all claims steming from county authorities enforcing an ordinance on open air assemblies, said Milwaukee Attorney Barbara J. Janaszek during Tuesday's Sauk County Board meeting.

"That should hopefully bring this matter to a close," she said.

Sauk County sheriff's deputies backed by police officers from around the area ended the festival of music, political speeches and marijuana advocacy on May 26, 2000, just as it began on a field east of Baraboo. Most participants left peacefully, with 11, including Masel, arrested for charges such as resisting arrest, disobeying a court order or illegal drug possession.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals later ruled some provisions of Sauk County's ordinance were too restrictive and imposed unconstitutional limits on Weedstock participants. Misdemeanor criminal charges against Masel and a civil case against him and landowner Marcus Gumz were dismissed after the court ruling in July of 2003.

The County Board has since modified the assembly ordinance in response to concerns raised by the court.

Masel said he would not have agreed to the settlement if he were not satisfied with it. About $4,000 will go to Masel to pay attorney's fees and the rest will be seed money for a future Weedstock festival, he said.

"Certainly with the court rulings, the Sauk County mass gatherings ordinance of the period was (found) unconstitutional," he said.

Sauk County Board Chairman Bill Wenzel said the settlement will come out of the county's insurance with the Wisconsin Counties Mutual Insurance Corp., not property taxes. Because Sauk County has a low rate of losses, he does not expect an increase in yearly premiums, he said.

"In terms of county-scale stuff, the settlement of this size is pretty small in the first place," he said.

"We all view this as a one-shot deal."

Wenzel rejected any suggestion that the original ordinance was unfairly directed against Weedstock.

"If the question was, did we in our irritation or zealousness try to overstep ourselves to try to control an event that we were upset about, I don't think so," he said.

The case has been a learning experience in how to properly write an open air assembly ordinance, Wenzel said. Because there are public health, safety and law enforcement issues involved, an appropriate set of requirements has to be legislated for such events, he said.

Masel said he is not sure when he will hold the next Weedstock festival. It would only return to Sauk County if he found a welcoming property owner and a location he liked, he said.


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