Blawnox man in court over right to hang campaign signEdit
- By Michael Aubele, VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH, November 28, 2007
Wes Thompson wants Ron Paul for president and isn't afraid to show it.
Thompson arrived here at district court on Tuesday wearing a blue T-shirt with gold lettering that read, "Freedom loving Pennsylvanians support Ron Paul for president in 2008."
Partially hidden under Thompson's jacket, the shirt wasn't overly noticeable -- unlike the large campaign sign Thompson has attached to the fence in front of his home and business along Freeport Road in Blawnox.
It was the sign that forced Thompson to show up at District Judge Elissa Lang's courtroom for a civil hearing. Blawnox Borough filed a suit against Thompson claiming he violated a zoning ordinance by displaying a campaign sign more than 30 days before an election.
Pennsylvania's presidential primary will be April 22.
Thompson hung the sign in August, near a sign that's been on his fence for years advocating a United States withdrawal from the United Nations.
According to the civil complaint, Blawnox officials twice called Thompson to tell him to remove the sign. The complaint also states that police delivered a letter to Thompson instructing him to remove the sign.
The borough, according to the complaint, is seeking the maximum fine of $500 plus a $49 fee.
Thompson, meantime, said he has no plans to remove the sign. He believes his right to keep it there is protected by the Constitution under the First Amendment.
"This (ordinance) obviously is not constitutional," he said.
He also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld residents' right to place signs on their own property, citing the 1994 decision, City of Ladue v. Gilleo.
In that case, the court struck down a Missouri city law prohibiting signs at private residences.
"I've never had trouble with the borough before," Thompson said. "For whatever reason, they don't like the sign."
He added, "I'm keeping the sign up."
Thompson said he's always been politically active. He supports Paul, a Green Tree native and former Libertarian who's running as a Republican, because the candidate holds true to the Constitution.
"I don't care about party as long as the candidate is correct on the issues," said Thompson, local chapter leader of the John Birch Society and state vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Constitution Party. "What's important is the Constitution."
Thompson said he hung the sign because "Somebody like Ron Paul needs name recognition. He doesn't have the name recognition of someone like Hillary Clinton."
About a dozen Paul supporters arrived at Lang's courtroom on Tuesday with Thompson. Some also wore T-shirts supporting the candidate, and at least one carried a sign.
"This is a true grassroots campaign," Thompson said.
"I'm thrilled that (Paul) is a candidate," he added. "At the very least, he'll educate the American people and a lot of the candidates."
A spokesman for Paul's campaign could not be reached for comment.
Whether or not Thompson will have to remove his Ron Paul sign wasn't decided Tuesday because Lang continued the hearing on a date to be scheduled.
Lang said the case wasn't meant for a civil suit. She said she advised Blawnox's solictor that the proper way to file the charge would be as a non-traffic summary violation.
Lang said the civil charge would be withdrawn.
John Rushford, attorney representing Blawnox, said the borough would "review the matter before taking further action."
"Typically," he said, "a zoning violation is not a criminal case."
Rushford said that no one from his firm, Dodaro Cambest & Associates, could attend Tuesday's hearing and that the firm requested it be continued.
- Michael Aubele can be reached at email@example.com or 724-226-4673.
I spoke to Hagan Smith, the chairman of the PA Constitution party today and he says they won the case on the grounds that the Supreme Court has ruled that political signs are allowed to be displayed on private property and a local district justice could not overturn that. These Officials in Blawnox were just trying to intimidate and didn't realize that this man knew the law.