By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Oral arguments in Robin Hensel’s free speech lawsuit against the city of Little Falls are set to begin at the Federal Courthouse in Duluth, Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 11 a.m.
A motion has been filed by defense counsel Paul Reuvers for a summary judgment to dismiss the case.
Attorney Larry Frost filed the lawsuit against the city on Hensel’s behalf in May 2012.
The lawsuit alleges the city violated Hensel’s constitutional right to free speech, when she was asked to remove signs in her yard that violated city code in fall 2011.
The city maintains its sign ordinance was complaint-driven and that Hensel was asked to remove the signs only after a complaint was received about the signs in her yard.
Hensel found other signs in the city that violated the code, including a “We Support Our Troops” banner hanging on a building on Bank Square in Little Falls.
The lawsuit alleges that the city, which has updated its sign ordinance in the meantime, has singled Hensel out because it disagrees with the content of the signs and her political views.
It also alleges that the city’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional and gives preference to commercial signs, since the number of signs and the footage of signs allowed is greater in a commercially-zoned area than in residential areas.
The lawsuit includes restriction of Hensel’s free speech when the city declined to place an advertising bench in an area near City Hall upon Hensel’s request, because the Council knew the content would be against the city.
The motion filed by Frost prior to the oral arguments asks that the judge find against the summary judgment to dismiss.
The motion filed by Reuvers argues the city’s sign ordinance is content-neutral and only limits the size and number of signs in residential areas and that the public has alternatives for speech, despite the ordinance.
It asserts that Hensel was not singled out for enforcement based upon the content of her signs, but that since the city’s ordinance was complaint-driven, enforcement occurred only after receiving a citizen complaint.
In the case of the bench, the defense motion argues Hensel’s suit lacks standing in violating First Amendment rights, as the city has a franchise agreement with a company, not Hensel, for placement of advertising on benches in the city.
In the agreement, the city has the authority to determine locations of advertising benches, which the defense says does not impede Hensel’s right to free speech.
Bruce Fein of Bruce Fein and Associates Inc. in Washington, D.C. will present the plaintiff’s oral argument. Fein is an attorney Frost has worked with on other cases involving constitution law.
The oral arguments will be heard by Judge Richard H. Kyle.
The arguments are open to the public.