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November 17, 2012

Big signs, big fines?

Clarksville could theoretically levy more than $200,000 in fines against state Rep. Clere for sign ordinance violations

(Continued)

CLARKSVILLE — THE APPEARANCE

In addition to opposing the fines, Fox also took issue with the way the case was handled from a procedural standpoint. An appearance — in other words, the identity of the lawyer for Clarksville — had not yet been entered, and there should have been a pretrial conference scheduled for the two lawyers to meet before the initial hearing, Fox said.  

“The rules do not have, in any way, shape or form, provisions under the civil rules for an initial hearing to bring somebody in to tell them what you’re charged with,” Fox said. “As soon as somebody has — they know who I am. I’ve entered an appearance in this case. I’ve never received an appearance from anybody with the town of Clarksville that says, ‘I am the attorney you’re dealing with.’ That’s required by the civil rules.”

But Fox could have waived the initial hearing, Lockard said.

“But instead he appeared,” Lockard said. “All ordinance violations, whether it’s speeding, whether it’s a dog bite, whether it’s a building violation or a sign violation, they all get set for an initial hearing so that the court has some docket management to set hearings.”

Lockard said that Clere was not being singled out, and that the town had contacted two other politicians whose signs violated the town’s ordinance. Both corrected the problem immediately, Lockard said, while Clere refused.

Clere said he has no problem with the town having a right to establish a reasonable sign ordinance, including for political signage. But he thought the town’s need for regulations on signage should be balanced by the need for protection of political speech, he said.

“I would argue that to be reasonable in terms of protected speech, a sign ordinance limiting political signage would have to take into consideration the surrounding area and the type of signage that’s present in that area,” Clere said. “When you look at the Veterans Parkway area, there are many, many very large signs. So I’m not convinced that it’s reasonable to suggest that a 4-by-8 sign is somehow too large for that area, when there are signs that are far larger than 4-by-8 and permanent in nature.”

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