MARINETTE — As Election Day nears, political signs are popping up everywhere.
In Marinette, that could have some people running into trouble with the law.
The city has an ordinance requiring permits and a $15 fee to the city for the right to display the signs.
However, a Marinette resident is suing the city saying the ordinance doesn't specify who has to pay the fee.
"The punishment is forfeiture, the sign owner has to pay the city's costs associated with prosecuting them and finally a potential 30 day imprisonment for each illegal sign," said attorney Will McKinley.
McKinley, with the Green Bay firm Liebmann, Conway, Olejniczak and Jerry S.C., is one of the attorneys representing Marinette resident Kristin Abbs who filed the lawsuit in federal court.
The city attorney did not want to comment because of the ongoing lawsuit, he did say the ordinance does not apply to homeowners, but attorneys for the plaintiff argue that's not necessarily the case because they say the way the ordinance is written is too vague.
"The fact that the ordinance singled out political speech for certain time restrictions and permit requirements struck us as blatantly unconstitutional," said attorney Wick Schmidt, also with Liebmann, Conway, Olejniczak and Jerry S.C.
The ordinance does not specify who has to pay for the signs. It does say the signs may not be placed on public property. The signs cannot be posted 120 days before an election and must be taken down three days after the election. The ordinance also does not specify what criteria the signs must meet or give a time frame in which permit applications must be reviewed.
"These are significant ramifications for someone that just wants to put up an I support Romney or I support Obama or what have you," said McKinley.
It's also confusing for residents and business owners like Henry Leuerman.
"I think there should be some kind of an ordinance but I think that is going a little bit too far," he said.
The filing alleges political speech isn't really free in Marinette if residents and businesses are required to obtain city approval and pay a fee to place political signs.
The suit is simply asking the city to remove the ordinance. A hearing for the case is scheduled in Federal Court in Green Bay on November 1.
The attorneys are asking the city to refrain from enforcing the ordinance while the lawsuit is under review.
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