Chesterfield County, VA - A Chesterfield County Circuit Court judge has ruled that a homeowner who posted two large signs in his yard criticizing local government officials did not violate the county’s sign ordinance. The ACLU of Virginia provided legal representation to C. L. Morrissette after the county took him to court for refusing to remove the signs.
Morrissette was convicted of violating the ordinance prohibiting signs “containing religious, educational or charitable messages or which advertise events for nonprofit organizations” that “exceed eight square feet in area and five feet in height.” Morrissette’s signs were 32 square feet. The county does not place such limitations on other categories of signs.
Morrissette’s signs read, “Welcome to Chesterfield Where Government is Corrupt Taxes Are High and the Schools are Mobile” and “Ed Barber, Renny Humphrey, Art Warren, Kelly Miller and Lane Ramsey, in their Official Capacity, are Corrupt, Self-Serving Liars. Challenge them to a Polygraph.”
The county argued that the signs were educational and therefore subject to size restrictions. Judge Cleo E. Powell ruled that Morrissette’s signs did not fall in the education category since they expressed his opinions rather than providing factual information.
The ACLU also argued that by banning large signs with some kinds of messages (e.g., educational) but not other kinds of messages (e.g., Christmas tree vendor signs), Chesterfield’s ordinance discriminates based on the content of the sign, a violation of the free speech clause of the Constitution. Judge Powell, however, did not address the question of whether the county’s ordinance unconstitutionally restricts signs based on their content.
“We are pleased the court has recognized Morrissette’s right to put up these signs on his own property,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “However, the judge avoided the central question, which is the constitutionality of Chesterfield’s ordinance.”
“We are concerned the county’s ordinance will continue to limit free expression by placing greater restrictions on religious, charitable, and educational signs than on other types of signs,” added Willis. “We hope that the case will send a message to Chesterfield County officials that their sign ordinance needs to be revised.”
Morrissette is represented by Charles A. Gavin, with Blackburn, Conte, Schilling & Click, P.C., and Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia.
Contacts: Kent Willis or Rebecca K. Glenberg, 804/644-8022