Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Clearwater Fishing Banner Unfurls First Amendment in Court

Had a Florida bait and tackle shop covered up an offending fish painting with the U.S. flag, it could have avoided additional tickets under the Clearwater municipal sign ordinance, according to an ABA Journal report by columnist Martha Neil, reporting on an update of a new case involving free speech.

But covering the exterior wall mural with the text of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution violated Clearwater's sign rules for businesses, a city official told a federal magistrate judge in a hearing today in Tampa, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

During questioning by an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, the city planning director, Michael Delk, said the owner of the Complete Angler shop wouldn't have been ticketed if he had used the flag instead of the First Amendment to cover the fish painting. However, Delk didn't explain the reason for the distinction between the flag and the First Amendment, for ticketing purposes, the newspaper writes.

The ACLU is seeking an injunction on behalf of the shop that would bar Clearwater from citing it again under the sign ordinance until constitutional issues in the case are sorted out.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins, who will make a recommendation at some point to U.S. District Judge James Whittemore about how the injunction request should be handled, expressed frustration to lawyers for both sides about their "level of advocacy," the Times reports. "I just really don't feel that this case has been articulated very well," she told the attorneys.

Owner Herb Quintero and the ACLU contend that the entire sign ordinance should be struck down on constitutional grounds because it is vague and exempts holiday displays, writes the Tampa Tribune.

Attorney Leslie Dougall-Sides, who represented the city at the hearing, conceded that the holiday display exemption might be unconstitutional, the newspaper reports. If so, however, it can be severed so the rest of the sign ordinance remains in effect, she argued.

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