Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Onion files Supreme Court amicus brief defending the right to parody. (WaPo(

Our City of St. Augustine's patron saint, Saint Augustine of Hippo, wrote that, "an unjust law is no law at all."

The same goes triple for unjust lawmen like DAVID SHOAR.  They are not lawmen at all, but lawbreakers, inflicting "Jim Crow law."

Parma, Ohio Police allegedly arrested and jailed a man for four days, retaliation for his obviously satirical Facebook page. 

These are noisome nasty betrayers of their oaths to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution. 

Sounds like the Parma, Ohio Police Department and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals badly need their consciousness raised.  The Onion is right,

Parma, Ohio Police Department's actions remind me of the outrageous fascist piggery and thuggery here in St. Augustine under the maladministration of WILLIAM BARRY HARRISS, City Manager from 1998-2010, with the contrivance connivance of our orotund and other-directed St. Augustine Police Chief (later Sheriff) DAVID SHOAR, a vicious vituperative varmint who covered up at least one officer-involved domestic violence homicide, the man who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994.  

HARRISS "retired" in 2010.

SHOAR was elected Sheriff in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, finally retiring in 2021.

SHOAR put HARRISS on the Sheriff's payroll ($1500/month).

The itty-bitty-City's, HARRISS's, SHOAR'S, and SAPD's hateful campaign inflicted "Jim Crow law" on street artists and performers, a stench in the nostrils of our Nation significantly encouraged by mendacious Mayors CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS, JR. a d JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR., who suppressed First Amendment protected activity while ripping off local residents and taxpayers, as exemplified by their stinky 81 St. George Street lease of City property at 20% of market rates, ably exposed by FOLIO WEEKLY.

Amidst their war on our rights, a federal jury got to rule against these radicals and against our corrupt City of St. Augustine's vicious attack on free speech rights. The jury ruled against the City.  The verdict was upheld.  The City did not appeal.

The late heroic civil rights lawyer William Sheppard and Gray Thomas and William Yokan from his law firm successfully represented the late heroic civil rights plaintiff Warren Celli, winning a $23,500 jury verdict against the City of St. Augustine, Florida for its suppression of his satirical newspaper, the St. Aug Dog.

Four hours of First Amendment violations on St. George Street resulted in a $23,500 jury verdict.  

HARRISS, SHOAR & Co, exposed as the humorless haters they were: PRICELESS.

To the City and all who would imitate it, let me quote the words I said to one of our former County Commissioners after he was arrested for bribery by FBI agents: DON'T DO IT AGAIN.

Read the District Court's decision in Celli v. City of St. Augustine, 214 F. Supp. 2d 1255 (M.D. Fla. 2000)

Read the Sixth Circuit's decision in Novak v. City of Parma, Ohio,

Read The Onion's hilarious and pointed Supreme Court amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on our rights to parody without fear of arrest by fascists.




Footnote: My late mentor, Honorable Nahum Litt, argued more than 70 cases in appellate courts, including the Sixth Circuit, for the Interstate Commerce Commission.  Judge Litt was later Chief Administrative Law Judge of the Civil Aeronautics Board (1977-1979) and U.S. Department of Labor Office fo Administrative Law Judges (1979-1995).  Judge Litt went on to found and write the New Smyrna Beach Shadow, exposing and satirizing the NSB and Volusia County Establishment.  Judge Litt would heartily agree with The Onion and would have loved its satire of legal Latin and "scholarship," having once written a satirical article on judges' personalities and work habits ("A Judicial Aviary") for the American Bar Association's Judge's Journal. 

Chief Judge Litt, his daughter Marcia and I were once watching an episode of the tv comedy, "Night Court," and he remarked with words to the effect that, "this program mocks the justice system that I served for 40 years." I responded, "no, Judge, you were part of the civil injustice system. This program mocks the criminal injustice system."

The American criminal injustice system is mocked by unjust judges who would rubber-stamp the arrest and incarceration of Mr. Novak for making fun of the Parma, Ohio Police Department. 

The First Amendment, in its majesty, must protect our right to criticize, mock and expose governments for what they do, and don't do.

The Supreme Court should grant Mr. Novak's writ of certiorari and decide on our right to parody.  

From The Washington Post:



The Onion files Supreme Court amicus brief defending the right to parody

The Supreme Court building. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)

The Onion — a satirical publication known for poking fun at everything from popular culture to global politics — is taking a stab at a serious issue. On Monday, it filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of an Ohio man who faced criminal charges over a Facebook page parodying his local police department.

Anthony Novak, an amateur comic from Parma, a Cleveland suburb, was arrested and briefly jailed after creating a fake social media page in 2016 styled after the Parma Police Department’s Facebook page. His lawyers argue it was an obvious parody, and he was acquitted at trial.

Novak subsequently filed a civil suit alleging his constitutional rights were violated, though that was dismissed after a federal appeals court granted the police officers qualified immunity — a legal doctrine that protects government officials from being sued for allegedly violating civil rights. “There’s no recognized right to be free from a retaliatory arrest that is supported by probable cause,” the appellate judges ruled.


Now, Novak is petitioning the Supreme Court to take up his case.

True to form, the supporting brief filed by the Onion’s lawyers Monday takes a satirical approach in its bid to get the nation’s top court to consider Novak’s petition. It starts with an outlandishly false claim that the Onion is “the world’s leading news publication,” with a “daily readership of 4.3 trillion” that has “grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.”

The Onion created lovable ‘Diamond Joe’ Biden. Then it destroyed him.

Despite the sarcasm and hyperbole, the legal brief isn’t a joke. The publication’s aim is to get the Supreme Court to scrutinize qualified immunity and free speech rights. (Amicus briefs are documents filed by parties not directly involved in a case to provide the court with additional information.)

“The Onion cannot stand idly by in the face of a ruling that threatens to disembowel a form of rhetoric that has existed for millennia, that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate, and that, purely incidentally, forms the basis of The Onion’s writers’ paychecks,” the brief says.

It also highlights what the Onion suggests are shortcomings in the legal system when it comes to protecting those who use comedy to question people in positions of authority.

“The Onion regularly pokes its finger in the eyes of repressive and authoritarian regimes, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, and domestic presidential administrations,” the brief says. “So The Onion’s professional parodists were less than enthralled to be confronted with a legal ruling that fails to hold government actors accountable for jailing and prosecuting a would-be humorist simply for making fun of them.”

According to Novak’s lawyers, police obtained a warrant for his arrest over a fake Facebook page that mocked the department. The page in question was up for only about 12 hours before Novak took it down after law enforcement threatened a criminal investigation. They searched his apartment, seized his electronics and charged him with a felony under an Ohio law that criminalizes using a computer to “disrupt” police operations.


Novak’s petition calls on the Supreme Court to decide whether officials can claim qualified immunity when they arrest someone based purely on speech. It also asks the justices to do away with the doctrine altogether.

The Onion didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on its legal brief. The Parma police officials named in the brief couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, while the city’s legal department did not immediately return requests for comment overnight Monday. Andrew Wimer, a spokesman for the Institute for Justice, the civil rights law nonprofit which is representing Novak, described the Onion brief as “both humorous and very serious.”

“If the police can use their authority to arrest their critics without consequence, everyone’s rights are at risk,” the institute said in a statement.


Rachel Pannett joined the Post's foreign desk in 2021 after more than a decade with The Wall Street Journal, where she was deputy bureau chief for Australia and New Zealand.  Twitter







SHERIFF HARDWICK, COUNTY, DUCK QUESTIONS ABOUT COLD CASE INVESTIGATIONS, SEPTEMBER 2, 2010 MURDER OF MS. MICHELLE O"CONNELL






On February 12, 2019 (Lincoln's Birthday), I looked St. Augustine Beach's then Chief of Police, ROBERT HARDWICK, in the eye and said, "I know when you're Sheriff you're going to take JEREMY BANKS to the Grand Jury."

HARDWICK replied, "I don't know if I want to be Sheriff."

I repeated my statement, word fore word, "I know when you're Sheriff you're going to take JEREMY BANKS to the Grand Jury."

HARDWICK replied, "I'm trying to figure out how to do it."

HARDWICK and I talked during a meeting of the St. Augustine Beach City Commission.

HARDWICK has now been Sheriff of St. Johns County since January 2021.

Time's up, Sheriff.

So at the second of two mandatory public budget meetings this month, on September 20, 2022,  I share that background with our County Commissioners, asking how much money is in the County budget for Sheriff's cold case investigations.  

  • No response from estimable St. Johns County Office of Management and Budget Director Jesse Dunn.
  • Dunn referred to a Sheriff's budget document that is apparently not in the thick bound County budget. 
  • No documents received from Dunn, and no answers, as of 11:20 AM  on the day after the September 20, 2022 final budget meeting.

  • No response from Sheriff HARDWICK. 

Pitiful.

I told our St. Johns County Commissioners that We, the People expect Sheriff HARDWICK to keep his promise.

No wife beater belongs on the Sheriff's payroll.

No one who killed his girlfriend belongs on the Sheriff's payroll.

Deputy JEREMY BANKS is still on the payroll, driving a Sheriff's car, with a gun and badge.

Why?

Pitiful.

Sheriff HARDWICK has avoided speaking with me, other than "hello" since becoming Sheriff. 

A friend watching his September 6, 2022 performance mildly said, "He doesn't like you."  Two weeks later, I saw that he was staring at me with an intense stare of hared, as I left the podium after questioning his commitment to resolving cold cases like State of Florida v. JEREMY BANKS, which has never been presented to a Grand Jury, despite probable cause being found d that BANKS murdered Ms. O'Connell by two (2) respected judges -- St. Johns County Court Judge Charles Tintin and United States District Court Judge Brian J. Davis.

Pray for Sheriff ROBERT HARDWICK.

We'd expected great things from him.  He's an 82nd Airborne Division combat veteran, like my late father, for whom the South Jersey Chapter of the 82nd ABN DIVN ASSN is named, the "CPL Edward A. Slavin Chapter."

Sheriff HARDWICK, we expect you to honor your oath, from this day forward.

Now.

As Senator Robert F. Kennedy said, "It is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from."

Celli v. City of St. Augustine, 214 F. Supp. 2d 1255 (M.D. Fla. 2000)

Here is the full text of the United States District Court's January 31, 2000 order in Celli v. City of St. Augustine. 

Kudos to the late Warren Celli and his lawyers, D. Gray Thomas and Michael Yokan, and the late Sheppard White civil rights firm founder William Sheppard.


Celli v. City of St. Augustine, 214 F. Supp. 2d 1255 (M.D. Fla. 2000)

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida - 214 F. Supp. 2d 1255 (M.D. Fla. 2000) 
January 31, 2000

214 F. Supp. 2d 1255 (2000)

Warren CELLI, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Defendant.

No. 3:98-CV-253J21B.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division.

January 31, 2000.

*1256 *1257 D. Gray Thomas, Sheppard, White and Thomas, P.A., Jacksonville, FL, Michael R. Yokan, Law Office of Michael R. Yokan, Jacksonville, FL, for plaintiff.

Susan S. Erdelyi, Marks, Gray, P.A., Jacksonville, FL, for defendant.

 
MEMORANDUM ORDER

NIMMONS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Warren Celli challenges an ordinance of the City of St. Augustine, Florida on the basis that it deprives him of his First Amendment right to free speech. After a jury trial and verdict, the Court sets forth below its findings on the reserved issues of law.

 
I. Facts

Plaintiff Warren Celli is a self-described "street artist." Mr. Celli creates graphic images, mostly of a political nature and usually containing poems or other written words. Mr. Celli also produces his own newspaper, called The St. Aug Dog, which contains political cartoons and opinions. Plaintiff contends that the Defendant City of St. Augustine prevented him from displaying, offering for sale, and selling his art on the public sidewalks and streets of St. Augustine. Plaintiff argues that he was so prevented through the enforcement of Ordinance 82-54 (January 10, 1983), codified as St. Augustine, Florida, Code of Ordinances ch. 22, art. I, § 22-6 (hereinafter referred to as "Section 22-6" or "Ordinance")[1], which provides in pertinent part:

 
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person or organization to use or occupy any public square, park, street, sidewalk or other public property within the city for the purpose of selling, displaying, offering for sale or peddling any goods, wares or merchandise, except any nonprofit organization, religious, literary, scientific, charitable, educational purpose who shall have obtained a permit from the city manager or his designee.

On March 5, 1998, Plaintiff set up a tripod stand on public property outside of a private park on the corner of Hypolita Street and St. George Street, located within the historic district of St. Augustine. St. George Street allows only pedestrian traffic. Hypolita Street is a street that allows vehicular traffic. Plaintiff's stand contained a petition for a constitutional defense organization. He had buttons for his constitutional defense organization. However, the primary purpose of Plaintiff's stand was to sell his political newspaper, The St. Aug Dog. The focus of Plaintiff's organization and newspaper was *1258commentary on the City's enforcement of Section 22-6 against street artists along St. George Street. Other street artists protested Section 22-6 that day and television news cameras were present. Also present were friends of the Plaintiff, some of whom had brought video cameras.

While Plaintiff was selling his newspapers and graphic art, a St. Augustine police officer observed the Plaintiff and approached him. The police officer also called his sergeant to the scene. What transpired between the police officers and the Plaintiff was disputed at trial. Plaintiff claimed that the City, through its police officers enforcing Section 22-6, violated his Constitutional right to free speech by preventing him from selling his art and newspaper. Defendant contended that the police officers were not enforcing Section 22-6. Rather, Defendant asserted, the police officers were concerned for public safety inasmuch as the Plaintiff's stand was situated where a busy pedestrian street crossed a vehicular street.

At the conclusion of a full trial on the factual issues, the jury returned a verdict for the Plaintiff. The facts found by the jury on its interrogatory verdict form (Dkt.67) were: (1) the Defendant, through its police officers, prevented the Plaintiff from displaying and/or selling his newspapers and/or art on March 5, 1998; (2) the enforcement, or threatened enforcement, by the officers of Section 22-6 was a substantial motivating factor for the above referred acts of the officers; and (3) the Defendant's above acts were the proximate cause of damages sustained by Plaintiff. The jury then awarded damages in the amount of $23,500.

 
II. Conclusions of Law

Since the jury has now determined that the Defendant was enforcing Section 22-6 against the Plaintiff, the Court must address whether Section 22-6 is unconstitutional. If the Ordinance is unconstitutional then Plaintiff did, indeed, suffer a cognizable injury and the jury's award of damages may stand. However, if the Court finds that the Ordinance is not unconstitutional then Plaintiff will not have suffered any cognizable injury, despite the fact that Section 22-6 was enforced against him. The Plaintiff would have suffered no more from the Ordinance's enforcement than if he had received a speeding ticket; thus the jury's award of damages could not stand.

 
A. Protected Speech Materials

The Court has no hesitation in finding that Plaintiff's materials are protected under the First Amendment. On the day of the incident, Plaintiff was selling a newspaper and visual art. The newspaper is a quintessential example of protected expression. See Mills v. State of Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 219, 86 S. Ct. 1434, 1437, 16 L. Ed. 2d 484 (1966) ("The Constitution specifically selected the press, which includes not only newspapers, books, and magazines, but also humble leaflets and circulars, to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs"). Likewise, the Court finds that the visual art is protected speech in this instance.

There is no Eleventh Circuit precedent to guide the Court on whether artworks are protected expression under the First Amendment. The Second Circuit has held that all visual art is protected under the First Amendment. See Bery v. City of New York, 97 F.3d 689, 695-96 (2d Cir. 1996) ("Visual artwork is as much an embodiment of the artist's expression as is a written text, and the two cannot always be readily distinguished"). Nevertheless, the Court need not reach as far as the Second Circuit in resolving the instant case. Plaintiff's visual art contains phrases and *1259 poems, making each artwork a form of political parody or statement. As such, each piece of Plaintiff's visual art clearly incorporates written expression that is protected under the First Amendment. See International Caucus of Labor Comms. v. City of Montgomery, 111 F.3d 1548, 1551 (11th Cir. 1997) (holding that the "distribution of literature is a type of speech protected by the First Amendment").

When analyzing the Ordinance for facial unconstitutionality, the Court also examines whether on its face the Ordinance applies to speech. The Ordinance prohibits the use or occupation of public property "for the purpose of selling, displaying, offering for sale or peddling any goods, wares or merchandise." The Supreme Court has held that the sale of protected materials is protected. See City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publ'g Co., 486 U.S. 750, 756 n. 5, 108 S. Ct. 2138, 2143 n. 5, 100 L. Ed. 2d 771 (1988) ("the degree of First Amendment protection is not diminished merely because the newspaper or speech is sold rather than given away"). "It is well settled that a speaker's rights are not lost merely because compensation is received; a speaker is no less a speaker because he or she is paid to speak." Riley v. National Fed'n of the Blind of N.C., Inc., 487 U.S. 781, 801, 108 S. Ct. 2667, 2680, 101 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1988) (finding a North Carolina law regulating professional fundraisers unconstitutional). See also Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio, 319 U.S. 141, 143, 63 S. Ct. 862, 863, 87 L. Ed. 1313 (1943) (explaining that First Amendment freedom "embraces the right to distribute literature and necessarily protects the right to receive it"); Sentinel Communications Co. v. Watts, 936 F.2d 1189, 1196 (11th Cir.1991) (finding that the Eleventh Circuit "has joined an increasingly lengthy body of Supreme Court and federal precedent emphasizing that there is `no doubt' that the right to distribute and circulate newspapers through the use of newsracks is protected by the first amendment").

Thus, while Section 22-6 may be geared toward application against vendors of wares, as argued by Defendant, the Ordinance is also capable of application against vendors of protected speech.[2] The fact that the jury found that the Ordinance was enforced, or threatened to be enforced, against the Plaintiff is ample proof of this possibility. Consequently, the Court finds that Section 22-6 is capable of being enforced against protected speech activities and must undergo constitutional scrutiny.

 
B. Forum Analysis and the Standard of Review

The Court must now analyze the City of St. Augustine's attempt to restrict Plaintiff's speech through Section 22-6. Plaintiff argues that Section 22-6 is unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to the Plaintiff. The Court will first scrutinize the Ordinance on its face. The Ordinance seeks to ban individuals and organizations from using or occupying "any public square, park, street, sidewalk or other public property within the city." Since these areas are public property, the first step in the analysis is to determine the type of forum in which the speech occurs.

*1260 The Supreme Court has "identified three types of fora: the traditional public forum, the public forum created by government designation, and the nonpublic forum." Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educ. Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 802, 105 S. Ct. 3439, 3449, 87 L. Ed. 2d 567 (1985). A traditional public forum is a place that has been "devoted to assembly and debate" either by "long tradition" or "government fiat." 473 U.S. at 802, 105 S. Ct. at 3449 (quoting Perry Educ. Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Ass'n., 460 U.S. 37, 45, 103 S. Ct. 948, 954, 74 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1983)). Public parks, streets, and sidewalks are all traditional public fora. See Cornelius, 473 U.S. at 802, 105 S. Ct. at 3449; International Caucus of Labor Comms., 111 F.3d at 1550. Therefore, the City's Ordinance is an attempt to regulate speech in public fora.

In a traditional public forum, content-based restrictions on private speech must survive strict scrutiny to pass constitutional muster. See Perry, 460 U.S. at 45-46, 103 S. Ct. at 954. "Because a principal purpose of traditional public fora is the free exchange of ideas, speakers can be excluded from a public forum only when the exclusion is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and the exclusion is narrowly drawn to achieve that interest." Cornelius, 473 U.S. at 800, 105 S. Ct. at 3448. Nevertheless, the government may regulate the time, place, and manner of expression "as long as the restrictions are content-neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication." Sentinel Communications Co., 936 F.2d at 1201-02.

 
C. Content Neutral or Content Discriminatory

The Court next determines whether the Ordinance is content neutral. A reading of the Ordinance shows that it is not. The Ordinance favors content from nonprofit organizations or religious, literary, scientific, charitable, or educational content over all other content. Conspicuously absent from the Ordinance's exclusions is one for political content the type of speech applicable in the instant case. That is not to say, however, that the Ordinance would be constitutionally valid if an exclusion for political content were included. "The government may not regulate use based on hostility or favoritism towards the underlying message expressed." R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 386, 112 S. Ct. 2538, 2545, 120 L. Ed. 2d 305 (1992) (invalidating crime ordinance which outlawed only fighting words based on race, color, creed, religion or gender). See also City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43, 114 S. Ct. 2038, 129 L. Ed. 2d 36 (1994) (holding ordinance which banned all residential signs but those falling within one of ten exemptions was unconstitutional content discrimination which treated some kinds of speech more favorably than others).

The Gilleo court explained the constitutional reasoning behind the notion that "a regulation of speech may be impermissibly underinclusive." Gilleo, 512 U.S. at 51, 114 S. Ct. at 2043. First, excluding all speech except certain categories "may represent a governmental `attempt to give one side of a debatable public question an advantage in expressing its views to the people.'" Id. (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 785-786, 98 S. Ct. 1407, 1420-21, 55 L. Ed. 2d 707 (1978)). On the other hand, the government may be using the regulation and its exemptions to "select the `permissible subjects for public debate' and thereby to `control ... the search for political truth.'" Id.(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y. v. Public Serv. Comm. of N.Y., 447 *1261 U.S. 530, 538, 100 S. Ct. 2326, 2333, 65 L. Ed. 2d 319 (1980)).

By excluding all use or occupation of public property "except any nonprofit organization, religious, literary, scientific, charitable, educational purpose," the Ordinance is impermissibly favoring certain types of content over others. Thus, the Court finds that Section 22-6 is content discriminatory and is subject to strict scrutiny. Defendants must show that Section 22-6 is "necessary to serve a compelling state interest and the [Ordinance] is narrowly drawn to achieve that interest." Cornelius, 473 U.S. at 800, 105 S. Ct. at 3448.

 
D. Application

The Court finds that the Ordinance is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Nonprofit organizations as well as those with "religious, literary, scientific, charitable, [and] educational" purposes are just as capable of causing street congestion and traffic hazards as any of the persons the Ordinance prohibits from using or occupying public space. These groups are also just as likely to cause visual clutter and to compete with local business. In this respect, the Ordinance is under-inclusive in its scope and does not accomplish its goal. Yet, the ordinance also sweeps too broadly by prohibiting speech by a majority of individuals and organizations. Such an ordinance is not narrowly drawn.

The Defendant claims that the Ordinance is content-neutral. As such, the City argues, the Ordinance is a legitimate time, place, and manner restriction. The Court acknowledges that Defendant correctly argues that the City has a substantial interest in maintaining the aesthetic attractiveness of St. Augustine, See e.g. City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789, 806-07, 104 S. Ct. 2118, 80 L. Ed. 2d 772 (1984); promoting public safety and the orderly movement of pedestrians, See e.g. Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 554-55, 85 S. Ct. 453, 13 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1965); and protecting the local merchant economy, See e.g. Turner Broad. Sys. Inc. v. F.C.C., 512 U.S. 622, 114 S. Ct. 2445, 2469-70, 129 L. Ed. 2d 497 (1994).

Despite Defendant's arguments, however, the Court finds that Section 22-6 cannot be a valid time, place, or manner restriction since the Ordinance completely excludes certain classes of people or organizations from all public property. Section 22-6 is not narrowly tailored to serve the significant government interest of controlling pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the historic district of St. Augustine. But most egregious is the fact that the Ordinance completely prohibits speech by a certain class of speaker on any and all public property.

The Defendant argues that speakers, including the Plaintiff, have alternate means for expression. For support, Defendant cites to International Caucus of Labor Committees. v. City of Montgomery, 111 F.3d 1548 (11th Cir.1997), for the proposition that Plaintiff was free to set up his tripod on private property, and thus his First Amendment rights were not violated. Defendant, however, misunderstands the import of International Caucus. The regulation at issue there only prohibited tables on public sidewalks. The regulation explicitly stated that individuals and groups were free "to hand out literature and solicit contributions on the sidewalks." 111 F.3d at 1552. It was only the tables, which obstructed free pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks, that were prohibited from the public property. Id. It was only because the sidewalks remained open to other speech activities that the court in International Caucus held that the regulation *1262 left open sufficient alternative channels for communication. Id.

In the present case, the Ordinance prohibits a person or group from using or occupying public property. The Ordinance does not specify that tables or other obstructions are prohibited. As the Ordinance is currently written, a person wearing a sandwich board displaying art, goods, or protected speech materials would be prohibited from using or occupying any public property within the city limits of St. Augustine just as much as a person who set up a semi-permanent structure. Such a law is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Nor is it narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, leaving open ample alternative channels of communication.

In view of the foregoing, the Court finds Section 22-6 unconstitutional on its face. The Ordinance is content discriminatory and is not necessary to serve a compelling government interest. Moreover, even if the Court were to find the Ordinance content neutral, the Ordinance is not a legitimate time, place, or manner restriction. The Ordinance is not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, nor does it leave open ample alternative channels of communication. The Court also finds that Section 22-6 is unconstitutional as applied to the Plaintiff. The City's police officers enforced, or threatened to enforce, the Ordinance against the Plaintiff because his materials did not fall into one of the Ordinance's exceptions. As such, the City enforced a content discriminatory ordinance against Plaintiff, impinging Plaintiff's right to free expression.

 
III. Damages

The Court notes that Defendant made much of the fact that Plaintiff's art and newspaper were specifically created in order to protest the enforcement of Section 22-6 against street artists, other than himself, along historic St. George Street. Defendant claimed that the Plaintiff staged the incident between himself and the officers. Defendant also argues that it notified the Plaintiff later that day, or the next, that the Plaintiff was free to sell his materials. Consequently, the Defendant argues that Plaintiff suffered no real damages.

The Court notes that this scenario was presented to the jury, which returned a verdict that the City was enforcing Section 22-6 against the Plaintiff. While the Plaintiff may have hoped for a confrontation with police officers trying to enforce the Ordinance, this does not change the ultimate result. Having now found that the Ordinance is unconstitutional, it can now be said that the Plaintiff did indeed suffer a deprivation of his constitutional rights. While that deprivation may have lasted for only a day, or even just a few hours, the injury is no less real. Defendant's notice to Plaintiff may have served to mitigate damages, but the initial damage was already done.

While it is difficult indeed to put a monetary value on an intangible right as significant as free speech, that is the task the jury was asked to perform and it did so. The Court finds that the jury's award of damages in the amount of $23,500 is not excessive.

The Plaintiff's prayer for relief also requests attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court, in its discretion, may allow a prevailing party in an action under § 1983 an award of attorneys' fees. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). As hereinafter provided, the parties will be given the opportunity of briefing the issue of whether the Court should award attorneys' fees to the Plaintiff.

*1263 Upon consideration of the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED:

1. The Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment for the Plaintiff in the amount of $23,500, pursuant to the Jury Verdict (Dkt.67), nunc pro tunc to November 10, 1999.

2. By separate order entered this date, the Court has declared Ordinance 82-54 (January 10, 1983), codified as St. Augustine, Fla., Code of Ordinances ch. 22, art. I, § 22-6 unconstitutional on its face and as applied and has enjoined its enforcement.

3. The parties shall brief the issue of whether the Court should award attorneys' fees to the Plaintiff. Plaintiff's brief shall be filed on or before February 14, 2000. Defendant's responsive brief shall be filed within ten days of service of Plaintiff's brief. Such briefs shall not exceed seven (7) pages.

 
DECLARATORY JUDGMENT AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION

Based upon the Court's findings and conclusions set forth in its memorandum Order (Dkt.69) entered this date, it is ORDERED and ADJUDGED:

1. City of St. Augustine Ordinance 82-54 (January 10, 1983), codified as St. Augustine, Florida, Code of Ordinances ch. 22, art. I, § 22-6 is hereby DECLARED unconstitutional, under the First Amendment, on its face and as applied.

2. The Defendant, City of St. Augustine, Florida is hereby permanently enjoined from enforcing, or threatening to enforce, said Ordinance.

NOTES

[1] Section 22-6 was approved as Ordinance 82-54 (January 10, 1983). It was subsequently codified as St. Augustine, Fla., Code of Ordinances ch. 22, art. I, § 22-6. In proceedings before the Court, the parties have referred to the Ordinance as "Section 22-6" or "Ordinance 22-6."

[2] The Court recognizes that regulations of commercial speech are subject to less exacting scrutiny. See generally Virginia Pharmacy Bd. v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 96 S. Ct. 1817, 48 L. Ed. 2d 346 (1976). Nevertheless, that is not to say that commercial speech deserves no protection at all. The Court notes, without deciding, that a ban on all commercial speech from most individuals or groups, but favoring commercial speech from certain excepted groups, might also be constitutionally infirm.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

St. Johns County commission votes against industrial park proposed for farmland. (First Coast News)

There were dozens of us who spoke against the hare-brained Elkton Industrial Park proposal, ignored by monopolistic, pro-developer, promise-breaking GANNETT's incredible shrinking St. Augustine Record

Cheers for all who opposed this oxymoronic "Industrial Park!"

The same day, Commissioners voted unanimously to reject another misguided proposal, for thousands of new homes, by vote of 5-0.  

  • While running puff pieces to promote this industrial park, the Record didn't cover our 4-1 victory in County Commission, defeating this latest devious developer scheme, which would have taken farmland and opposed up the area for speculators.
  • And now, GANNETT's unreasonable facsimile of the Record no longer prints its readers' columns, having destroyed its once-vibrant Opinion page, once daily, and once with two (2) pages on Sunday. 

You can watch the hearing here: https://stjohnscountyfl.new.swagit.com/videos/184703

As Finley Peter Dunne's fictional character, "Mr Dooley," a Chicago bartender, famously said, "The Supreme Court follows the election returns."  

So too, did St. Johns County County Commission follow the election returns, as I knew they would, and told them so.   

Developers are still shocked by the August 23, 2022 Republican Primary victory of Krista Keating-Joseph and her ringing 175 vote margin defeat of ambitious Commissioner JEREMIAH RAY. BLOCKER, a citizen revolt that also shocked: 
  • BLOCKER's wife, LAUREN BLOCKER, a County Court Judge appointed by Governor RONALD DeSANTIS last year, and 
  • their pal, Sheriff ROBERT HARDWICK, and 
  • their funders, including developers, alcohol and gambling interests.
ROGERS TOWERS lawyers and developers were gobsmacked, flummoxed and flattened.

It's about time.

From Jessica Clark and First Coast News, a duopoly of two network affiliates in Jacksonville (once owed by GANNETT, now owned by a GANNETT spinoff that started with the same stockholders): 

St. Johns County commission votes against industrial park proposed for farmland

The land would have had to be rezoned from agricultural to light industrial.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Denied.

That’s the decision about a warehouse distribution center proposed for a stretch of farmland in St. Johns County.

The much debated project came to a head Tuesday at the St. Johns County Commission.

The commission chambers were packed with people had their reasons why it should and should not be allowed.

Elkton is a small farming community between St. Augustine and Hastings.

Chris Shee bought the 90 acres in question. It’s about four miles west of I-95 on State Road 207. He wants to build two large warehouses on that farmland, with up to 1.2 million square feet of industrial space. That’s a little bigger than The Avenues Mall in Jacksonville. He says the organic food distributor KeHe is interested in this site.

"This is a much-needed industrial park in St. Johns County. We have to stop being such a bedroom community for Jacksonville," Shee told commissioners.

Most people in the room who spoke during public comment were opposed to the idea of rezoning the property from agriculture to light industrial. Reasons included concerns about increased traffic, creating a precedent to rezone more of the area to industrial, and losing farmland. 

Most, but not all the farmers, in the area who spoke Tuesday told commissioners they oppose the project.

There were others, even some employees of Kehe, who strongly support the project. They say it would bring good-paying jobs to the county. 

In the end, the county commission denied the rezoning and the project 4 to 1.

RELATED: Industrial warehouses bigger than the Avenues Mall proposed for farmland in St. Johns County

RELATED: Land on Jacksonville's Northside could be used to build apartments and parks, but neighbors believe the land is tainted from ash waste