But township says it was ready to change regulations anyway. The case is related to dispute over Dan Laughlin’s signs during his successful state Senate campaign.
Millcreek Township ended a flap over political signs in September, when the township withdrew a $12,000 civil claim against Republican state Senate nominee Dan Laughlin, who went on to win the race in the 49th District.
The larger dispute, over the constitutionality of a township ordinance that regulates the placement of political signs, has not gone away.
It has led to the filing of a lawsuit U.S. District Court in Erie, though the case already appears close to getting resolved.
A Millcreek resident, Louis J. Montefiori, sued the township, claiming the sign ordinance violates his First Amendment rights, though the township has not cited Montefiori and though the township withdrew its claim against Laughlin over his campaign’s political signs.
Montefiori is challenging the ordinance’s restrictions, including a prohibition against posting political signs no sooner than 30 days before an election. The township cited that rule and others when it initially pursued $12,000 in fines against Laughlin.
Montefiori’s lawyer, John Mizner, filed the suit on Tuesday.
The township said the case need not have gone to court.
Since the dispute over Laughlin’s signs, Millcreek has been developing an amendment to the sign ordinance to address the constitutional concerns, the township’s solicitor, Mark Shaw, said Friday. He also said the township has no intention “to take any enforcement action against anyone” over the constitutionally objectionable provisions of the ordinance.
“This is the first time that we have heard of any of this,” Shaw said of Montefiori’s concerns as outlined in the suit. “This plaintiff did not come to us. If they had, they would have been told that we know and that we are working on it, which would have made any lawsuit unnecessary.”
Shaw said he expects the township supervisors to consider the amended ordinance as early as next month. He said the supervisors had wanted to make the changes in time for the current election cycle, but were unable to do so.
Mizner, Montefiori’s lawyer, said his client did not approach the township and ask that it change the ordinance. The township should have done that on its own, but instead went into another election cycle with the ordinance on the books, Mizner said.
“I don’t think it is his job to get the township to amend the ordinance,” Mizner said of Montefiori. “The township is aware the ordinance is unconstitutional based on what happened to Dan Laughlin.”
Montefiori in his suit wants a judge declare the sign ordinance unconstitutional, and he is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages, though Mizner said Montefiori wants to recover only his legal fees.
“He is not pursuing this for monetary damages for himself,” Mizner said. “He wants the law changed.”
Montefiori, 52, of the 1000 block of Brooks Bay Drive, “cares deeply about his Township, his Commonwealth and his Country,” according to the suit. “Mr. Montefiori is politically active, but is restricted in his political speech by Millcreek’s unconstitutional zoning ordinances.”
Though the township never cited Montefiori over political signs, Mizner said the ordinance chills free speech because residents might refrain from posting political signs for fear of getting fined. Mizner said Montefiori has no relationship with Laughlin.
Millcreek filed the $12,000 claim against Laughlin on July 25 and dropped it on Sept. 6. Laughlin’s campaign raised “constitutional issues” that led the township to withdraw the claim, the township’s three supervisors — John Groh, Brian McGrath and John Morgan — said in a joint statement at the time.
A Laughlin campaign spokesman had said the township’s ordinance was unconstitutional because two U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawed the restriction of political speech — an argument that Montefiori echoed in his suit.
Original article by: Ed Palattella can be reached at 870-1813 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNpalattella.