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Court Enjoins Police From Removing Signs in the Right-of-Way

yessignThe brouhaha over a proposed bond referendum for the Scarsdale Schools has now spilled over from the streets into United States District Court. Controversy over the placement of "Yes" signs supporting the bond referendum led one Scarsdale resident to file a lawsuit claiming that a local law that prevents political signs in the Village right of way inhibits his free speech.

The issue arose when proponents for the bond placed hundreds of signs on Village lawns and on public property, some within the right of way, which is the first 13 feet of property from the curb. This led to objections from those who oppose the bond who asked police to remove the illegally placed signs. A similar dispute over the placement of signs erupted last March when the Plaintiff, Robert Berg, ran for Mayor of Scarsdale and signs supporting his candidacy were removed from the public right of way.

Now Berg has won a temporary restraining order against the Village of Scarsdale and the Scarsdale Police that enjoins them from removing political signs from the Village right of way. Berg charged that removing signs has "chilled the exercise of his first and fourth amendment right to free speech."

As most of Berg's front lawn is within the Village right-of-way he argues that he is deprived of his right to place political signs on his lawn without the threat of enforcement and prosecution. The court found that Berg showed "irreparable harm" when he sought to "engage in political speech, as timing is of the essence in politics and a delay of even a day or two may be intolerable."

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Roman cited a 1994 case, "City of Ladue v. Gilleo where the court found that "residential signs have long been an important and distinct medium of expression," and "by eliminating a common means of speaking, such measures can suppress too much speech."

The court ruled that "Defendents (Scarsdale Village) are enjoined from enforcing the provision of Section 256-1 of the Scarsdale Village Code or taking any other action against Plaintiff and other persons with respect to posting political lawn signs in the Village of Scarsdale right of way in front of private homes, so long as said political lawn signs pose no safety of traffic hazards." The ruling, dated February 6, was issued just two days before the referendum but could have effects in the next few weeks when Scarsdale faces an election for Village Trustees.

Read the court's decision here.

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