Cook County Court Judge Thomas Donnelly dismissed 92 cases on Thursday against the activists, who were charged with violating a rarely used park curfew law. In a written ruling, Judge Donnelly said the city's park curfew ordinance is "unconstitutional both on its face and as applied and all complaints in this case are dismissed with prejudice."
The Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) filed motions to dismiss in February on behalf of 92 Occupy Chicago protesters.
Judge Donnelly's decision also said, "The City's claim that citizen safety, park maintenance and park preservation constitute the substantial governmental interests that justifies closing the park seven hours nightly fails because the City routinely closes the park for fewer than seven hours nightly, making ad hoc exceptions to the Curfew for permitted groups." The order continued that, "Because it is undisputed that the City closes Grant Park longer than necessary to serve the governments interests, the Curfew is not narrowly tailored, in violation of the First Amendment. The Curfew also violates the Illinois Constitution which provides a more vigorous right to free assembly, embracing even non-expressive assemblies."
On In October 2012, more than 300 Occupy Chicago activists were arrested during protests in Grant Park. Most of the 300 protesters arrested have already accepted a deal with the city to resolve their cases for community service in lieu of a conviction. It's unclear whether these agreements will need to be revisited as a result of Thursday's ruling.
"I felt it was unconstitutional to begin with it. It felt bad to be treated like a criminal for choosing to express my political beliefs with others," said Andy Manos, Occupy Chicago.
Manos spent 16 hours in a cell for refusing to leave Grant Park after it closed at 11 p.m.
"I was put in a cell with one other person, no mats, no food, no toilet paper for 16 hours," said Manos.
"This is an incredibly moving moment for people in this Occupy Chicago who felt they were not welcome here in the city of Chicago," said Sarah Gelsomino, People's Law Office.
Occupy Chicago organizers say the ruling gives them momentum as the movement celebrates its first anniversary.
"When we went into Grant Park we knew we were within our rights," said Matthew McLoughlan, Occupy Chicago organizer.
The City of Chicago calls the ruling disappointing. As it appeals, the city's law department says it will continue to enforce the curfew ordinance. The city says for public health and safety, it cannot allow all public parks to remain open 24 hours a day.
The next Occupy Chicago protest is scheduled for the Thompson Center on October 13th.