Balto. Co. to resume enforcing political sign size restrictions

Federal judge rejects request to halt enforcement

August 11, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County will resume enforcement of rules limiting the size of temporary political campaign signs, after a federal judge rejected Wednesday a Towson's man's request that officials be barred from applying the restrictions before his claims of constitutional violations were resolved.

County Attorney John E. Beverungen said yesterday that "there's no legal reason" why the rules cannot be enforced. "We feel are on very solid grounds," he said

The county had suspended enforcement in the spring after Stephen V. Kolbe of Dulaney Valley Road filed suit. He claimed that his free-speech and equal-protection rights were violated by an county order that he remove a sign supporting former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The county cited Kolbe for putting up a 32-square-foot sign in a zone where only 8-square-foot signs are allowed. Kolbe claimed that the rules inhibit political debate and discriminate against homeowners, because larger signs are allowed on vacant land.

In a six-page decision denying Kolbe's request for a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake — who heard oral arguments on the request last Friday in Baltimore — ruled that Kolbe "has not yet shown he is likely to succeed on the merits of his constitutional claim."

She rejected arguments made by Kolbe's lawyer, Michael J. Pappas of Towson, that the sign regulations specifically target the content of political signs. Blake wrote that the size limit "applies regardless of the content of the temporary sign." She added that courts have upheld limits on the size of signs that did not target content and said that Kolbe had not cited any case in which a "content-neutral" size limit had been struck down.

Judge Blake set Aug. 31 as a date for a conference call among the parties to decide next steps on the case.

Kolbe and Pappas could not be reached for comment on the decision. They have the option to appeal the ruling to the Circuit Court of Appeals.

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