Sign Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Sign Law Ruled Unconstitutional

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- A judge has overturned the city sign law used to keep a businessman from posting signs critical of the city on his vacant buildings.

The ruling was handed down Wednesday by 2nd District Judge Parley Baldwin, who on Feb. 6, 2002, the day the Winter Olympics torch run was going to wind up by the buildings, agreed to the city's request that businessman Bruce Edwards be ordered to remove the signs.

Just hours before the torch run, Baldwin ordered the signs down, saying the ordinance, which had been adopted just two months earlier, was presumed to be constitutional, pending further review.

That review is over and on Wednesday Baldwin overturned the city's prohibition against posting most signs on vacant buildings.

The judge said the prohibition "would dismay the average American, who given this nation's proudly proclaimed history of special respect for individual liberty and private property, would be surprised to learn that he could not display flags, religious symbols, political placards or even bumper stickers from the windows of his vacant building."

Baldwin ruled the ordinance was too broad and was based on the content of the signs, making it a First Amendment question, instead of one of public safety, which was the stated purpose of the ordinance.

"Ogden argues that vacant buildings pose health and fire hazards and are unattractive nuisances, either by deterioration or by serving as a place of retreat for criminal or immoral purposes. It is unclear how the absence of a sign could lessen any of these hazards," he said.

On the contrary, Baldwin said, the for-sale signs allowed by the ordinance would seemingly invite burglars.

Baldwin also said the city's later amendment to the ordinance to allow signs on vacant buildings used as a set for the TV show "Everwood" was "an impermissible content-based discrimination between forms of noncommercial speech."

Assistant City Attorney Andrea Lockwood said the judge's decision will be reviewed with the mayor and City Council.

"First Amendment issues and sign regulations are always difficult, and I'll leave it at that," she said. "We're not in a position to talk about an appeal at this time."

Edwards said Wednesday evening that he was not putting his controversial signs back up immediately. He said he was waiting to see if city officials had "another card to play.

"I'm sure the city has anticipated losing this. If not, none of them should be in office. I have to think this through a little bit," he said.

Edwards had posted as many as 15 signs, which generally attacked the city administration. Edwards has been battling with City officials for more than three years regarding permits for his development plans for the two adjacent buildings.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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