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City settles sign ordinance lawsuit

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A pending lawsuit filed by two Mt. Juliet residents Sept. 1 has been resolved, according to the attorney representing the residents.

In a statement, Mt. Juliet City Attorney Gino Marchetti said it was "unfortunate that a lawsuit was filled which made it necessary for the resources of the City of Mt. Juliet to be expended unnecessarily.

"This entire matter was resolved prior to any litigation being filed and if there were any questions remaining, a simple phone call would have resolved this matter in its entirety," Marchetti said.

He said, "Instead, certain individuals were used as Plaintiffs to very slightly change the current sign ordinance limiting the number of temporary signs which can be placed in Mt. Juliet.

"Certainly, the City respects and encourages the freedom of expression of each of its citizens," Marchetti said in the statement. "No such restriction was placed upon any residents or citizens of Mt. Juliet as each citizen was always free to post a temporary sign, either to express a particular philosophy, support a candidate, or express an opinion. Rather than continue to waste limited city resources by continuing this litigation, the City chose the wiser and most beneficial course for its citizens by entering into a consent order offering very slight amendments to one section of the Mt. Juliet sign ordinance."

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 1 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and challenged a portion of the City of Mt. Juliet 's sign ordinance that dealt with the length of time political candidates' signs can be placed. According to attorney Ben Gastel with Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings, who represented the citizens, "The lawsuit stemmed from allegations that Mt. Juliet had already confiscated some signs in enforcing the sign ordinance and was prepared to confiscate others that violate the ordinance, which would be any sign advocating for any candidate in the upcoming general election that are displayed prior to September 8."

On Sept. 29 Gastel filed a proposed consent judgment that would resolve the lawsuit that challenged the sign ordinance.

"By agreeing to the consent order, Mt. Juliet all but admitted that its sign ordinance violated the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and we are proud to have obtained such relief in such a short period of time on such an important issue," Gastel said in an announcement.

District 57 State House challenger Trisha Farmer was vocal leading up to the two citizens' lawsuit.

"This lawsuit stems entirely from the mismanagement of Mt. Juliet," she said in the announcement by Gastec.

"It is unfortunate the City was so cavalier in trampling the constitutional rights of people in Mt. Juliet to engage in the political process. I worked tirelessly to get the city to do the right thing prior to filing this lawsuit, but only the filing of the lawsuit brought the change needed to ensure the protection of rights of all citizens in Mt. Juliet. Now important precedent has been set that cities cannot use illegal sign ordinances to trample on people's rights."

Gastel said the City, through its attorneys, "Agreed to stop enforcing the sign ordinance as written and has agreed to rewrite the offending provisions of the sign ordinance in an attempt to bring it into compliance with the First Amendment. This filing all but ends the pending lawsuit."

Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenneth Martin confirmed the pending litigation has been stopped and city leaders will revisit this portion of the sign ordinance.

Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at laurieeverett1@gmail.com.

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Tags: 
City of Mt. Juliet, First Amendment, Gino Marchetti, Kenny Martin, lawsuit, Mt. Juliet, ordinance, political, political signs, Trisha Farmer
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