A federal judge has ordered the company that manages the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore to send a contract to the conservative Catholic group that plans to hold a protest during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in November.
“The parties need to get this done,” U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander said during a telephone conference Wednesday.
Her ruling is a rebuke to the city, which owns the pavilion and has tried repeatedly to block the rally, citing the risk of violence and counterprotests.
Hollander previously ruled on First Amendment grounds that the city could not interfere with contract negotiations between the rally’s organizers, a group that goes by St. Michael’s Media in court filings and is also known as Church Militant, and the company that manages the MECU Pavilion for the city, SMG.
Hollander did not require SMG to execute a contract with St. Michael’s Media in that injunction, but did write that she expected “good faith negotiations.”
On Wednesday, Hollander said she was concerned by the fact that the parties have not yet completed a contract, and that SMG was attempting to require a $10 million insurance policy — with the option of asking for up to $25 million — for the rally to go forward.
She ordered SMG to send a contract to St. Michael’s Media by 5 p.m. Wednesday so that the parties have “a starting point” and can quickly reach an agreement for the event, which is scheduled to take place on Nov. 16.
“I want it to be a contract that is tied to reality,” Hollander said. “This has gone on too long.”
Before her injunction, the parties involved had asked for only a $2 million insurance policy, she noted.
“There’s this financial impediment now that’s surfaced and it’s troubling to me,” Hollander said. “I would like to hear from someone about what could possibly justify going from $2 million to $25 million.”
Bruce Hanson, who spoke as general counsel for SMG, said the figures came from the company’s broker.
The rally was originally projected to have about 3,000 attendees and include Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous, both far-right pundits with a track record of incendiary comments, as planned speakers.
St. Michael’s Media Inc. claimed in its initial lawsuit that Baltimore City Solicitor James L. “Jim” Shea told the city’s events agent to cancel a contract that would have permitted the group to hold its protest at the MECU Pavilion, directly across from the bishop’s Fall General Assembly at the Waterfront Marriott Hotel.
“We’re trying to protect ourselves and the city from an event that, frankly, checks a number of boxes for events that have an increased risk of liability: a political event, an event where protests are possible and an event that might require additional security,” Hanson said Wednesday.
Hollander did not outline specific requirements for the contract that SMG must send to St. Michael’s Media, but said that it must be “legitimate.”
She said the $25 million figure “does not seem tied to anything that’s justifiable.”
Hollander’s ruling came at a telephone conference Wednesday morning. The Daily Record was the only news media outlet present.
Both the city and St. Michael’s Media have filed appeals to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently considering a motion to stay from the city. The city has asked the appeals court to block Hollander from forcing SMG to sign a contract with St. Michael’s Media.
The 4th Circuit has not ruled on the request.
A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Wednesday’s court order.
The city has claimed in court records that the far-right digital media outlet cheered on rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January that the Baltimore rally was canceled “out of a legitimate fear that it would incite violence in the heart of downtown Baltimore.”
Marc Randazza, a Las Vegas lawyer who is representing St. Michael’s Media in its lawsuit, said after Wednesday’s conference that the $10 million requirement still seemed unjustifiable and that he could not say whether the group would sign a contract that included it.
“We are prepared to make any reasonable accommodation so that our religious and speech rights will not be impeded,” he said.
“If the only thing separating the parties is $6 million in insurance I think we may be able to finally put this to rest.”