Ellicott City man triumphs in car 'for sale' case Judge 'reluctantly' rules ordinance unconstitutional

November 22, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Using the power of the Constitution and his gift of gab, Ellicott City software designer Philip Marcus proved yesterday you can beat city hall -- or at least Howard County traffic regulations.

Marcus, a former lawyer, successfully argued in District Court that a county ordinance prohibiting residents from parking their cars with "for sale" signs along public roads restricted his first amendment right to free speech. He also got out of $48 in parking tickets.

District Judge R. Russell Sadler said he "reluctantly" deemed Howard's unusual ordinance unconstitutional, despite county officials' contentions such signs present safety hazards.

But Howard residents shouldn't prop "For Sale" signs in car windows just yet. The law is still in place and county officials don't seem eager to change it -- even in the name of the founding fathers.

"We have to sit down and talk about what we are going to do," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "We don't want our streets becoming a used car lot. We think the streets ought to be used for travel."

The county could appeal the court's decision to dismiss the case against Marcus, change the ordinance or do absolutely nothing at all, Ecker said.

He cited the possible safety hazard caused by people who stop to look at cars parked along roads. "It doesn't add to the beauty of the neighborhood, that's for sure."

Because the ruling came from the lowest level of the state court system, the county is not obliged to strike down the ordinance. Only a federal court in Maryland or the Supreme Court can force county officials to drop the law from its books, said Assistant County Solicitor F. Todd Taylor.

But the ruling may grant others who received tickets under the ordinance a shot at getting their fines wiped out as well. Other judges can refer to the case.

In light of the ruling, Taylor said he worries used-car lots may try to expand by moving cars onto the roadsides. "That's the worst possible scenario," he said.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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