Cary asks judge to revisit sign ruling
Posted February 16, 2011 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated February 16, 2011 6:00 p.m. EST
Cary, N.C. — Cary town officials asked a judge to revisit her ruling regarding a nearly two-year dispute with a local homeowner in a motion filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday.
District Judge Louise Flanagan ruled in December that the town violated David Bowden’s freedom of speech when it fined him for spray-painting on the front of his home at 305 Maynard Road the phrase “Screwed by the Town of Cary.”
Earlier this month, she ordered the town to pay $46,197.27 in fees.
Town officials said Bowden was in violation of an ordinance that specifies how and where signs can be displayed in the community.
But Flanagan ruled that the town’s rules were content-based because they don’t regulate holiday decorations or other things not commonly considered to be signs.
Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said Wednesday that the ruling appeared to require the town to regulate holiday decorations by setting size, height and other limitations.
“I know our citizens don’t want us to do this, and surely, the First Amendment doesn’t mandate this,” he said.
The town says that Bowden could legally have his message on at least three different-sized signs but instead chose to write it on a 48-square-foot section of his house.
If Flanagan rules against the town, the case could be appealed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We’re really hoping that she’ll take another look at the case,” Weinbrecht said. “The idea that local governments either regulate everything or are forced to regulate nothing can’t be what we’ve come to.”
Bowden has said he placed the phrase on the house after the town refused to buy it when water started leaking inside it as a result of a road-widening project.
Town officials have said they offered to fix the problem but that Bowden refused. The message is still painted the side of Bowden's house.