The legal battles over the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston took another turn Wednesday in federal court, with organizers of the traditional parade and a veterans group planning a second march along the same route squaring off over street sweepers.
A federal judge dealt a partial victory to the group Veterans for Peace, which is planning its third consecutive alternative march because organizers of the traditional parade on Sunday, the Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston, have excluded them.
Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings ruled Wednesday that his order of 2004, which mandated that any alternative group march 1 mile behind the council’s parade, did not require street sweepers to run between the two marches.
Veterans for Peace contends that running the sweepers between the two parades violates its First Amendment rights, because it suggests to spectators that the day’s officially sanctioned events are over, even though the group has a permit to march, just as the council does.
The peace group also contends that the city backed out of an agreement Friday to run the sweepers after the second parade and that city officials had cited Collings’s 2004 order in explaining why they had to place the sweepers between the two groups.
In 2003, Veterans for Peace organized a small parade and marched behind the traditional one on St. Patrick’s Day. The Allied War Veterans Council objected, saying the second march violated a 1995 Supreme Court decision that allowed them to exclude groups from their parade, the Globe reported.
Collings ruled in 2004 that the second parade could happen as long as it remained 1 mile behind the “police escort and street sweepers . . . following the last authorized unit of the [first] parade.”
He said Wednesday that he referred to street sweepers then because all parties had agreed that they marked the end of the first parade.
However, he said, “my order does not require that street sweepers follow the original parade.”
In effect, the new ruling means the city is not required to run the sweepers behind the first march, but could.
But Chester Darling, a lawyer for the Allied War Veterans Council, argued Wednesday that the sweepers are an official unit of the council’s parade and therefore must run at the end of that march.
James Messenger, a lawyer for the peace group, rejected that claim in court.
“We’re just trying to” prevent the city from suggesting the day’s events are over, he said.
Patrick Scanlon, coordinator of the local Veterans for Peace chapter, said he was pleased with Collings’s ruling.
“The reality is that in 2011, all we wanted to do was walk in the first parade,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city was reviewing Collings’s ruling but would not say if officials will now move the sweepers behind the second parade on Sunday, as Veterans for Peace would like.