Monday, August 9, 2010

Baltimore County "Sign Fight" In Court Today

A federal judge this afternoon is scheduled to hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of Baltimore County's regulations on political signs in a lawsuit filed this spring by a man who was ordered by the county to remove a campaign sign from his lawn.

Stephen V. Kolbe of Dulaney Valley Road wants the U.S. District Court to block enforcement of several provisions of the county sign code, including the rules restricting the size of political signs based on the zoning of the property and the rule allowing such signs only 45 days before an election.

Kolbe, who runs a computer consulting business out of his home, took down the 4-by-8, blue-and-white sign backing former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in his re-match with Gov. Martin O'Malley. The rules say that in his residential area, Kolbe cannot display a sign larger than 8 square feet.

The case is being heard in Baltimore by Judge Catherine C. Blake, who ruled three years ago that the 45-day provision was unconstitutional and barred the county from enforcing the rule. Kolbe argues that the county is still enforcing it, as the code enforcement officer who came to his house jotted the rule number on the "correction notice" taped to his side door. The county has argued that the notation was a mistake.

Kolbe's suit argues that the campaign sign restriction based on property zoning effectively governs political speech according to what type of property a person owns and where it's located. The suit argues that the rules violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In the meantime, the county is pursuing limited enforcement of rules on political signs. The county will be keeping files on complaints but is issuing no notices of violation for political signs.

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