Novato Police Chief Joseph Kreins, left, and Captain J. Berg, handcuff and detain Jerome Ghigliotti for disrupting a public meeting Tuesday evening, at
Novato Police Chief Joseph Kreins, left, and Captain J. Berg, handcuff and detain Jerome Ghigliotti for disrupting a public meeting Tuesday evening, at Novato City Council Chambers during the City Council meeting. (Photo by Nina Zhito)
Police arrested lawyer and immigration activist Jerome Ghigliotti at Novato's City Council meeting Tuesday night and led him away in handcuffs after the council declared his actions in support of the city's controversial E-Verify ballot measure to be out of order.

Ghigliotti, a spokesman for Citizens for Legal Employment and Contracting, had planned to criticize the Novato council for refusing to place a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot that would require contractors working for the city to determine the immigration status of their employees using a federal database. Although Ghigliotti's group obtained signatures from 12 percent of the city's registered voters - more than the 10 percent required to place a measure on the ballot - city officials have declined to sign off on a measure that would conflict with federal law.

As he has in the past, Ghigliotti rose to speak Tuesday during the council's "open time" for public comment - but turned his back on the council, preferring to address the audience at Novato's City Hall.

His refusal to address the council or respond to its requests led Mayor Jeanne MacLeamy to call a recess. While the council left its chambers, Novato Police Chief Joseph Kreins approached Ghigliotti and asked him to stop speaking.

"I told him, 'You need to sit down and stop disturbing this meeting. If not, you will be under arrest,'" Kreins said. "He said to me, 'You do your job and I'll do my job,' and he went on reading his statement."

Kreins and another officer handcuffed Ghigliotti and removed him from the building.

"He definitely was disruptive to the meeting," Councilwoman Denise Athas said. "I think the mayor did exactly the right thing. It's not a good thing for the town to witness that kind of disruption."

Athas said the council was concerned not only by Ghigliotti's actions Tuesday, but by comments he made during the Aug. 24 meeting that appeared threatening to council members.

"He started talking about his belief that the council had taken away the rights of citizens to vote, and then he rambled on in a diatribe about illegal immigrants killing people," Kreins said. "Towards the end of his statement, he said - and we have this on tape - 'But they (the council) already know about these people, and they're ignoring them. I've never done so in the past, but I do so now. I wish one of the council members' son or daughter or granddaughter was murdered or raped by an illegal alien.'"

Ghigliotti admits he made the statement, but said he has not personally threatened any member of the council or her family.

"I said what I said in order to bring them to reality," Ghigliotti said. "It's like telling someone if they cross the street against a red light, they might be hit by a car. Their conduct would precipitate this."

Novato police placed Ghigliotti in a police cruiser, brought him across the street to police headquarters and issued him a citation for disturbance of a public meeting, a misdemeanor. He is scheduled to appear in Marin Superior Court at 1 p.m. Oct. 5.

After his booking, Ghigliotti was released, he said, "on the promise that I would not go to the meeting." He said he is seeking legal counsel for his Oct. 5 hearing.

"He's not banned from any future meeting," Kreins said. "He is welcome to attend any at any time. All we ask is that he follow the rules, common sense and decorum, and treat everyone respectfully. That's all anybody asks of the public attending a meeting."

Ghigliotti insists his appearances at Novato's council meetings are on behalf of those voters who want to see the E-Verify system become a Novato requirement. The city already uses the system to check the status of its own workers, but does not do so for its contractors.

Council members say they're taking no action on the matter on the advice of City Attorney Jeff Walter and City Manager Michael Frank. Both have urged them not to support a measure that could be declared unconstitutional, because it would allow the city to punish offenders in matters that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Marin County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold said that while the council is generally expected to place a measure supported by enough valid signatures on an election ballot, there is no deadline by which it must do so.

"When an election is held is up to the city. Just because they're not holding it right now doesn't mean they will not have an election," Ginnold said.


Read more Novato stories at the IJ's Novato section.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com