HAWTHORNE – Andy Gause initially took his First Amendment fight to the borough, arguing his rights were usurped when it issued him a summons in February for having posted two Ron Paul campaign signs on his lawn.
Since then the citation has been dropped. But the problem, Gause said, is that the ordinance remains on the books.
As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, has filed a lawsuit on Gauses behalf against the borough in U.S. District Court in Newark. The lawsuit challenges the enforcement of the ordinance, which bans displaying political signs until 32 days before the election or seven days after.
Even though borough officials have said enforcement of the ordinance has been halted and the law is going to be changed, Gause contends that is not the case in filing the lawsuit.
“When the police came to issue the ticket, I told them I thought it was unconstitutional. I went to the Borough Council meeting and said I thought it was unconstitutional,” Gause said Monday. “This was certainly not my first course of action. They basically just ignored me time and time again.”
But Eric Mauer, borough administrator, said that since Gauses case came to light, the ordinance has been suspended and was not being enforced on the advice of the borough attorney. Additionally, Mauer said the council is reviewing the entire municipal codebook and that the ordinance would have been reconsidered during that process.
“They do know it needs to be changed,” Mauer said. “The ordinance will be changed.”
Mauer said he was taken aback by the Gause lawsuit.
“Given the circumstances, I was a little surprised that a lawsuit would have been filed,” he said.
A statement issued by Lawrence Ross, ACLU cooperating attorney, said that “no matter your opinion, you are free to express it, regardless of any time frame.”
The ACLU also sent a letter to the borough of Shrewsbury on behalf of a Barack Obama supporter after she was given notice that she had to remove her yard signs or would receive a summons. In the letter, Shrewsbury officials were asked to repeal their ordinance prohibiting display of political signs until 60 days before an election or five days after.
Among the evidence being submitted by Gause and the ACLU is an exhibit that claims borough officials denied seeing any issue with the ordinance during council meetings.
However, Mauer maintains that the ordinance, which has been on the books for about 3 1/2 years, was not being and would not have been enforced.
“As to why the council didn’t take immediate action on that provision is a decision that the council made,” he said. “We were told not to enforce it on the advice of our attorney and thats what we did.”
Gause said he is not seeking punitive damages and that he would be happy with an apology from the Police Department and a promise that it would uphold the Constitution in the future.
“I’m not happy it had to come to this even after the ticket was dismissed,” Gause said. “I don’t know how much more reasonable I could be. They really feel like they can amend the Constitution with a local ordinance.”
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