A California man was found not guilty of vandalism Monday for writing anti-bank messages outside of Bank of America (BAC) branches in San Diego.
Jeff Olson, 40, had used water-soluble children's chalk to write slogans including "No Thanks, Big Banks" and "Stop Big Banks" on sidewalks outside three Bank of America buildings at various times over six months last year. He was charged with vandalism and faced up to 13 years in jail and $13,000 in fines if convicted.
It took the jury five hours to return the verdict, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The trial had caused a small furor in San Diego. Bob Filner, the mayor of the city, called it a "nonsense" prosecution last week, and claimed that it came about in response to pressure from Bank of America.
Darrell Freeman, a B of A vice president of global corporate security, repeatedly asked the San Diego attorney's office to prosecute Olson, the San Diego Reader reported last month, citing documents it obtained through a public records request. B of A did not respond immediately to American Banker's request for comment.
At the trial, the judge prohibited Olson's lawyer from defending his client based on the right to free speech. Superior Court Judge Howard Shore forbid the defense attorney from mentioning the First Amendment or free speech during the trial, the Reader reported.
"The state's vandalism statute does not mention First Amendment rights," Judge Shore said, according to the report.
Olson told the Associated Press that the city's zeal in prosecuting the case had brought welcome attention to his message.
"I couldn't have done better if I rented an airplane with a banner and put billboards up all over town," he told the AP.