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Hearing for two activists delayed

Prosecutors want more time to decide whether to move ahead with charges against protesters arrested last month at a rally for President George W. Bush.

Police arrested three people after they refused to put down signs that said "Investigate Florida Votergate" and "June is Gay Pride Month" at a rally at Legends Field.

All three were charged with trespassing and one protester, Sonja Haught, 59, of Clearwater was also charged with disorderly conduct. If found guilty, they could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Two of the protesters appeared in county court Monday for arraignment.

But instead of hearing the charges, prosecutors asked to postpone the arraignment until July 30, giving State Attorney Mark Ober more time to weigh the case.

"We are hoping the state does the right thing," attorney William A. Knight said. "It's our position that no crime was committed."

The three protesters _ Haught, Janis M. Lentz, 55, of New Port Richey, and Mauricio Rosas, 37, of Tampa _ got tickets to attend the rally at Legends Field on June 4. The event was advertised as a rally to support Bush's tax cut plan.

The three protesters walked through metal detectors at a Secret Service checkpoint with the anti-Bush signs in plain sight, they said. As they waited on the field for Bush to arrive, they waved the orange, letter-size placards in a crowd filled with pro-Bush signs.

Soon, people began yelling at the three, a videotape of the incident shows.

Two Republican volunteers, William D. Cordova and Bill Bunkley, a lobbyist for the Florida Baptist Convention, singled out the protesters and asked Tampa police officers to remove them.

An unidentified officer told the protesters they could stay if they put down their signs. When a fourth protester, Walter Sorenson, 81, asked why he had to put away his sign, he said in an affidavit, an officer told him, "You don't make the rules; we make the rules."

He put down his sign and was allowed to stay.

But Haught refused and asked a police officer, "Why can't they lose their signs?" referring to pro-Bush signs.

At some point, the three protesters either fell to the ground or were pushed. They locked arms until police officers dragged them away in handcuffs. As they were thrown out, the crowd roared.

In court Monday, Lentz hugged her lawyer after appearing before a criminal judge for the first time in her life. "I was scared up there," she said.

_ Times Staff Writer David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karpsptimes.com.

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