By Ray O’Hanlon
Jury selection in the case of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization versus the City of New York and its police department began Tuesday in federal district court in Manhattan.
And in what promises to be an unusual two-week hearing, a six-member jury is to decide whether ILGO has been denied its civic and constitutional rights after years of street protests against the gay group’s exclusion from the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is named as the defendant in the suit taken by ILGO. The case was rejected by the same federal court when it was first taken by ILGO in 1996. However, it was subsequently sent back to the court for trial by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
ILGO contends in the suit that the city should award the group its own parade permit so that it can conduct a "legal" protest march up Fifth Avenue, the route of the parade, on St. Patrick’s Day.
"It’s very unusual for a case like this to get a hearing," said ILGO spokeswoman Anne Maguire. Maguire, a familiar figure in ILGO ranks over 10 years of St. Patrick’s Day protests, was due to be the first witness in the hearing on Tuesday afternoon.
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ILGO is arguing that it has a constitutional right to free expression, just as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which runs the parade, enjoys.
ILGO’s arguments have been heard in courtrooms before, but this will be the first time that they will be considered by a jury.
"Once ILGO exposes in open court the discriminatory practices of the police department, the mayor, and the city administration, we are confident that our rights will be vindicated by a fair and impartial jury," ILGO said in a statement.
ILGO is represented in the case, on a pro-bono basis, by an attorney from the leading firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison. The city is arguing on both its own behalf and on behalf of the NYPD and is being represented by attorney Virginia Waters.