Two supporters of Wilson County District 57 state house candidate Trisha Farmer filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Mt. Juliet and Mayor Ed Hagerty in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee Thursday afternoon.
The complaint alleges Farmer had some of her supporters' signs confiscated by Mt Juliet. The plaintiffs are Farmer's supporters in Mt. Juliet who displayed her campaign yard signs at their home residents.
The suit "challenges the recently-passed sign ordinance in Mt. Juliet," according to a press release sent out by attorney Benjamin A. Gastel, with Nashville firm Branstetter, Stranch, and Jennings PLLC.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs are Heath Harwell and Ethel Russell.
The plaintiffs also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order seeking an immediate order preventing Mt. Juliet from enforcing the ordinance, according to the press release.
This lawsuit comes on the heels of Farmer expressing she felt the sign ordinance infringed on the First Amendment. She's challenging District 57 Rep. Susan Lynn.
Late Friday night a statement opposing the sign ordinance was posted on Farmer's campaign website and she's subsequently interviewed with The Wilson Post about the issue. (See the City of Mt. Juliet's response on wilsonpost.com here)
The press release noted earlier this year, "Mt. Juliet passed a sign ordinance that prevents residents within Mt. Juliet from election-themed yard signs until Sept. 8 or 60 days from the upcoming general election in November."
"Given the heated political climate in a presidential election year, many residents already had signs up well before the September 8 deadlines," the press release stated. "Mt. Juliet has insisted that it plans to enforce the 'temporary sign ordinance as it was passed.'"
The lawsuit alleges Mt. Juliet's sign ordinance is "squarely at odds with this principle as it regulates the time and place of political speech."
The lawsuit asks the Court to declare the sign ordinance unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
"If the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech mean anything, then they must prevent a government from dictating to its citizens when they can and cannot proudly display their political preference," Gastel said. "We look forward to getting the ordinance permanently overturned, so that residents, whether Democrats or Republican, conservative or liberal, can fully participate in our ongoing national conversation."
When contacted, Farmer said she was not "surprised a lawsuit was filed."
"I have heard several complaints this week from people shocked that they were not permitted to freely express their preference with a yard sign," Farmer said after the lawsuit was filed. "I worked all week with city officials trying to head off this lawsuit, and I am saddened that the city has forced the filing of a federal lawsuit to rectify this wrong. I believe the sign ordinance is an affront to the Constitution, and I hope the plaintiffs are able to vindicate the rights of all residents of Mt. Juliet."
"As to the suit, we believe our sign ordinance strikes a reasonable balance between the rights of all citizens of Mt. Juliet," City of Mt. Juliet attorney Gino Marchetti said late Thursday night in response to questions about a response to the filling of the law suit. "Those who wish to express their views or run for elected office and those who want a safe and aesthetically pleasing city, recognizing the constitutional rights of all. It's unfortunate that some take issue with it, but that is their right as well."
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.