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Drinking law faces challenge

Homeless raise equality issue

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If the rich and powerful can drink in a public park in the weeks before next year's Super Bowl, why can't the homeless do it now?

That is the question the lawyer for three homeless men is raising in a court challenge over their arrest for drinking in a park that will be part of a designated party zone before the Super Bowl.

The three men were arrested in February in Treaty Oak Park on charges of drinking in public.

The park is inside a 2-mile entertainment zone adopted by the City Council in May. Beginning 18 days before the Feb. 6 Super Bowl, laws against open containers, noise pollution, and outdoor alcohol sales on city property will be suspended in the zone.

Lawyer Tyler McKinney says the zone benefits those attending the Super Bowl festivities, but can be manipulated to discriminate against the poor.

"The city's actions . . . show the ordinance has room for selective enforcement and should therefore be held unconstitutionally vague," McKinney said in court papers.

Duval County Judge Charles Cofer has scheduled a hearing for July 23.

Scott Makar, a lawyer for the city, said he believes that McKinney's arguments will fail in court. He said the actions of the three men have nothing to do with the Super Bowl.

"These guys were drinking in a public space," Makar said. "What happens in the Super Bowl is irrelevant."

The NFL typically requires such entertainment zones in host cities in the weeks leading up to the game in order to extend the festival atmosphere surrounding the Super Bowl.

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