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ACLU wins day-old political-sign suit

September 17, 2008

Within a day of filing a federal lawsuit regarding Plainfield's ordinance restricting political campaign signs, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana can claim another win on an issue that's becoming more prominent statewide.

The civil liberties group filed a suit Tuesday morning in the U.S. District Court's Southern District of Indiana challenging the town's 10-year-old ordinance, which prohibits residents from posting political signs more than 30 days before an election and more than 10 days afterward. Resident Nick Crews had received a letter Sept. 10 from the local planning department notifying him he'd illegally posted a sign in support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on his front lawn.

Crews removed the sign and contacted the ACLU.

In response, Plainfield has agreed to a 90-day enforcement moratorium and to allow residents to place political signs in their yards, town attorney Mel Daniels said. A board meeting is set for Monday to announce the resolution, and officials will then look at revising the ordinance, he said.

This case is the first time since the ordinance passed that anyone has questioned it, Daniels said. The ordinance was passed to help maintain the town's appearance and also ensure that all signs are taken down within a reasonable time frame following an election, he said.

"We'll go through the caselaw on that and see what needs to be done," he said. "But the restriction on time looks like it isn't supportable, and we'll probably have to take it out."

This is the fourth suit the state ACLU has filed and won relating to political signs and free speech rights, according to the organization's legal director Ken Falk. He plans to meet with the federal judge Monday to discuss ending the suit.

Previously, the ACLU has won similar suits in Noblesville and Valparaiso, and another suit from Highland is currently being resolved in an identical way, Falk said. Meanwhile in Plainfield, plaintiff Crews is pleased with the quick resolution and that his suit helped bring attention to the issue in what he describes as probably the most important election in modern history. He's placed his Obama sign on the front lawn again.

"Signs are great dialogue starters and a way to get people to talk about these issues," he said. "We're not being intrusive or forcing our opinions on anyone else. We just want to start a dialogue with neighbors, and it's important to talk about these issues. Citizens should be able to participate in that way - it's our constitutional right."

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