"F*ck the condo people" song enough to get bar's liquor license revoked?
Attorney David Lane is well known for defending the likes of controversial CU professor Ward Churchill on First Amendment grounds. So it's no surprise he's representing Murray Martinez, owner of Golden's venerable Buffalo Rose, against an attempt to revoke the venue's liquor license.
Why? Because Murray sang "Fuck the condo people" to the tune of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."
What the hell -- er, heck? Let Lane explain.
"The Buffalo Rose has been the target of the Golden town mothers and fathers for a long time," he maintains. "It's been a biker bar for years -- the Hell's Angels, the Sons of Silence, all kinds of biker clubs hung out there. But over time, the cops have hassled people in the club so much that the bikers no longer hang out there. So they've been changing their focus to music."
"They were always complaining about the noise," Lane says. "So the Buffalo Rose installed a sound meter. If the light is green, they're legal, and if the light is red, they turn down the sound -- and they complied with all the rules."
Then came the fateful evening of August 17, when "the cops came in again -- multiple times," Lane says -- and no wonder, since one of the people complaining about the racket was Karen Oxman, a member of Golden's city council.
The visits from the cops so frustrated Martinez, Lane continues, "that he got up on stage with the band that was playing. They were playing 'Rockin' in the Free World,' and Murray changed the words to 'Fuck the condo people.'"
He added some other lyrical adjustments as well. As cited to a motion to dismiss the case against Murray, on view in its entirety below, observers reported hearing the following phrases: "Condo people can kiss my ass," "We just talked to the man, fuck the man, we're playing all night," and "The man is always on my ass."
According to Lane, "a couple people heard the lyrics and called the police." But the conflict didn't end with the plug being pulled for the night. "Golden filed a liquor violation, because part of the Colorado liquor law says you can't do things that are offensive to people in the neighborhood -- you can't use obscenities," he points out. "So they're trying to suspend their liquor license or impose some sanction on the Buffalo Rose."
This isn't Martinez's first rodeo when it comes to free speech issues. Back in 2008, as reported in this Washington Post piece and accompanying video featuring Dana Milbank, he offered to let Al-Jazeera broadcast from the Buffalo Rose during the Democratic National Convention over the objections of many locals -- including some of the very bikers who then patronized his place. He responded by tacking a copy of the First Amendment to the bar door, Martin Luther-style.
To defend Martinez, Lane took delight in presenting a brief -- it's also available in its entirety below -- documenting all the times the word "fuck" has been ruled protected speech. Among the cheekiest entries is this one:
The state has the power to protect its citizenry from actual harm, and thus has the power to outlaw one yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. See, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919). However, yelling "Fuck!" in a crowded theatre does not create a clear and present danger to anyone and thus cannot be outlawed. Although they are both four letter words that start with F, the distinction is constitutionally significant.
At the hearing, Lane unveiled his strategy, which he synopsizes like so: "Murray has a First Amendment right to protest, and if it offends the neighbors, fuck 'em."
The Buffalo Rose's sign.
In contrast, Golden's legal reps at the hearing "stand up and say, 'We're not trying to punish speech. This is conduct.' And in my opening statement, I said, 'That's an interesting interpretation, because he wasn't actually trying to fuck the condo people. If he had actually been trying to fuck them, that would have been conduct, unless they consented to being fucked. But last time I checked, saying something is speech, not conduct.'"
As these remarks imply, "fuck" got a real workout at the hearing. "The city attorney said, 'I have never heard the f-word so many times in one pleading,'" Lane recalls. "And I said, 'Thank you very much. We accept the compliment' -- because any day I can say 'fuck' in court is a good day."
In fact, Lane recalls a previous case in which he bet a colleague a keg of beer that he could get one of the most prim and proper judges in the area to say the word "motherfucker" from the bench. He won.
The hearing was satisfying, too. "Murray's comment was, 'If they were offended by me singing "Fuck the condo people," they heard "fuck" more times in court than they ever did on the deck of the Buffalo Rose,'" Lane says.
At this point, Lane says he's "waiting for Golden to reply to our brief, and then the hearing officer will rule." Until then, he declares, "Let freedom ring, my friend. And fuck the condo people."
Page down to read the motion to dismiss and what Lane refers to as the "fuck brief," which may not be suitable for younger audiences but is pretty damn funny.