Norfolk Virginia Free Speech - Hearing Update

IJ in Court for First Amendment Rights in Norfolk, Virginia

Behind the Scenes at the "Preliminary Injunction" Hearing

IJ held a rally and picnic at Central Radio on July 5 at 7 p.m. to support Central Radio’s property and free speech rights.
IJ clients Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson are being blocked by the city of Norfolk, Va., from displaying a banner protesting eminent domain abuse.


As many readers know, IJ filed suit to protect Central Radio’s free speech rights on May 2.  The Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Authority has been trying to take Central Radio property and give it to Old Dominion University for an unclear purpose.  After losing an important court battle to save its property, Central Radio hung a 375-square-foot protest banner on the threatened building protesting the city’s eminent domain abuse.  Now, however, the City wants Central Radio to take down its banner because it’s “too big” under the city’s sign code.  The city has threatened Central Radio with a daily fine of $1,000 for every day it refuses to comply.

On June 28, the court held a “preliminary injunction” hearing to determine whether it will protect Central Radio’s banner from fines during the duration of court proceedings.  A “preliminary injunction” is different from a “permanent injunction,” which would allow Central Radio to keep up their banner until the end of their eminent domain battle with the city.  The court will decide whether to grant a permanent injunction at the end of all the court proceedings, probably several months from now.

The preliminary injunction hearing went well.  Central Radio was represented by IJ attorneys Steve Simpson and Erica Smith.  Simpson called two witnesses:  IJ clients Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson. The city attorney called a zoning official to the stand.  Each side was then allowed a closing statement. 

City Attorney Adam Melita argued that Central Radio’s banner should come down not only because it was too big, but also because it was likely “unsafe.”  Melita tried to support this argument by establishing that Dickinson—who supervised the mounting of the sign—had never been a sign contractor and was not familiar with the city building codes.  Simpson effortlessly undercut this argument by establishing on re-direct that Kelly routinely supervises the mounting of equipment weighing over two tons on Navy ships, including rocket launchers.  In this light, the city’s assertion that Dickinson couldn’t mount a vinyl sign seemed ridiculous.

Steve’s closing statement was excellent—concise, persuasive, and passionate.  It is easy to see why.  This case is a perfect illustration of how many of our rights are important not just in themselves, but also to protect our other rights.  Our right to free speech allows us to speak out anytime the government tries to violate our other rights.  And our property gives us the perfect forum to do so.  Indeed, protesting on our property is often a more effective means to reach our community than simply handing out fliers or writing an editorial in the paper.  That is why when the government weakens one of these rights, it places all the others in jeopardy.

At the close of the hearing, we were met at the court house steps by reporters.  We were happy to see that even though our hearing occurred at the same time as the Supreme Court released the landmark healthcare decision, the public was still paying attention to the government abuses that were occurring in their own town.

The clients were happy with how everything went, and we are cautiously optimistic.  We expect a decision in the coming weeks.

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