Clermont, Fla. Officials Target Small Business Owner

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
February 4, 2010 12:00 am

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ACLU Sues to Protect His Rights

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CLERMONT, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a federal lawsuit today against the City of Clermont on behalf of local businessman Wayne E. Weatherbee, owner of Bee’s Auto located in Clermont. According to the lawsuit, City officials have unconstitutionally targeted Weatherbee, attempting to suppress his free speech.

In October 2009, Weatherbee erected 12 signs on his business property in political protest against the City, which he claims selectively enforced its laws against him and his business, including falsely arresting him. One of the signs reads: “ACLU WHERE ARE YOU.”

Beginning Tuesday, February 2, the City began imposing a $75/day fine on Bee’s Auto until the signs are removed or Weatherbee obtains a permit.

The ACLU’s lawsuit asserts that the City’s ordinance regarding signage is unconstitutional and that officials are unconstitutionally applying it to Bee’s Auto. “The City’s code would allow, without any permit, a sign that urged viewers to ‘Vote for Crist for Senate,’ but would require a permit for one that read ‘Impeach Crist,'” said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director. “The City is regulating protected political speech based on its content, with no compelling reason. The City also allows, without any permits or limits on size or number, holiday decorations – so an Easter bunny or an inflatable reindeer gets more protection under the Code than Mr. Weatherbee’s political speech – that’s a clear violation of the First Amendment.”

Through the lawsuit, the ACLU is seeking for the court to strike down The City of Clermont’s unconstitutional signage ordinance, and prevent the City from further levying fines or collecting past fines placed on Mr. Weatherbee and Bee’s Auto, thus restoring the constitutional right to engage in political speech in Clermont.

“The City’s actions are abusive. Since at least 2007, the City of Clermont has been on notice that the code violates the First Amendment’s protection of political speech,” said Derek B. Brett, ACLU cooperating attorney in Orlando and Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Central Florida. “In 2007, the City demanded that Clermont residents obtain a permit and fee for a ‘Ron Paul for President’ sign on their lawn. In that case, a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the ACLU resolved the issue. Clearly the City didn’t learn, and continues to violate the First Amendment.”

View photos of the signs erected at Bee’s Auto here:

For a description of the signs erected at Bee’s Auto, download a PDF of the Complaint filed today in federal court here:

View the ACLU’s 2007 letter to the City of Clermont about political speech here:

Bee’s Auto vs. City of Clermont was filed in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Ocala Division. Attorneys leading the case include Derek B. Brett, ACLU cooperating attorney; and Maria Kayanan and Randall Marshall, both of the ACLU of Florida.

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