Restraining Order Issued Against West Warwick Political Sign Ordinance

October 14, 2008 12:00 am

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In response to a Rhode Island ACLU lawsuit filed last week, U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres this morning entered a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the Town of West Warwick’s political sign ordinance. The ordinance had been challenged by ACLU volunteer attorney Richard A. Sinapi on behalf of town resident and state legislative candidate Thomas K. Jones.

The TRO was entered without objection by the Town and will allow Jones and his supporters to immediately repost political signs on their property that promote his candidacy and that criticize the proposed controversial construction of a water park in the town. Jones voluntarily had the signs taken down last month after homeowners received notices from Acting Building Official Frank Venezia last month that threatened them with steep fines on the grounds that the 32 square feet signs were too large.

The lawsuit argues that the ordinance itself violates Jones’ freedom of speech and that it has been enforced against him by town officials in a discriminatory manner. Although signs that he displayed were cited for violating the ordinance, dozens of other similarly-sized political signs supporting other candidates were not cited at all. The lawsuit makes a number of other legal claims: that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague; it improperly restricts political signs to only those that directly support or oppose a candidate or ballot question; and it discriminatorily allows non-political signs to be larger than the size allowed for political displays.

The ACLU will continue to seek a permanent injunction against enforcement of the ordinance, as well as an award of attorneys’ fees.

ACLU volunteer attorney Sinapi said today: “The First Amendment has been vindicated by entry of this temporary restraining order. Mr. Jones can now communicate his message to voters of the town free from arbitrary interference by town officials, just as the First Amendment was intended to allow.”

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