The ACLU of Rhode Island today announced the settlement of a lawsuit over a Pawtucket ordinance banning the posting of political signs on residential property more than 30 days before an election. The lawsuit, filed last July by attorney Richard A. Sinapi, was filed on behalf of two candidates who were running in primaries for state legislative office in the city, Cherie Cruz (House District 58) and Jennifer Stewart (House District 59), and who both have since won their primary elections. Enforcement of the ordinance was put on hold after the suit was filed.
Under the settlement agreement filed with the court today, the city is barred from “prohibiting the erection and/or display of political campaign signs, including but not limited to candidate campaign signs or issue signs, or from subjecting the posting of any such signs to durational limits” or “from imposing any size, placement, and/or illumination restrictions on political campaign signs, including but not limited to candidate campaign signs or issue signs, that are more stringent than those imposed on non-political signs.” The City also agreed to pay $18,311.77 in attorneys’ fees and $500 each in compensatory damages to Stewart and Cruz. Both candidates indicated that they would donate their award of damages to the ACLU of RI.
Plaintiff Stewart said today: “I am grateful to our lawyer, Richard Sinapi, and to the ACLU for their work on our behalf to ensure the Bill of Rights applies in Pawtucket. The resolution of this lawsuit is a victory for free speech in Pawtucket. I hope Pawtucket – and every city and town in Rhode Island – takes this opportunity to review their laws and repeal those which are unconstitutional and undermine democracy.”
Plaintiff Cruz added: “This lawsuit was not just about signs, it was about a basic right of residents to freely express their political and electoral views. The settlement of this case reminds us that we must constantly fight against practices that negatively impact the lives of residents, including the denial of our most basic constitutional right – freedom of speech.”
ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Sinapi said: “I applaud the City’s decision to amicably settle this lawsuit, since decades of court decisions have made it abundantly clear that limiting political speech in this manner simply cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. This settlement should place all other cities and towns with similar ordinances on notice that there is a price to pay for violating their residents’ core First Amendment rights of political speech.”