Today Judge Patrick Caddell ruled that the City of St. Petersburg passed an unconstitutional law to restrict the use of electronic signs in the city. The ruling marks a major setback to the city that passed an ordinance prohibiting scrolling messages or messages that lasted less than 60 seconds for some signs. The city asserted it was protecting “public safety” and “aesthetics” but allowed such scrolling at the American Stage Theater sign and allows ten second dwell times on bill boards along I-275. Sunbeam Times founder and Editor Dr. David McKalip brought the constitutional challenge last November when fined by the city for violating its ordinance. He offered: “The citizens of St. Petersburg should be happy that the Court upheld their natural-born right to free speech today. The city has been put on notice that they should stop oppressing speech of some while favoring speech of others.” (continued below).
November 19, 2013: Doctor files Sign Challenge in Court.
JANUARY 21 First Hearing: “Judge on St. Pete Free Speech Case: Something Seems Wrong Here.” “Government Signs Welcome, Business Signs Not”, “Attempted Sign Spinner Ban“, “Double Standard for City Signs“, “Kitten and Puppy Pictures Banned by City“
Video of sign in question displaying free speech clause of Florida Constitution. This is the message the city fined.
The Judge pointed to the “irrationality” of the city’s claim that it was protecting public safety with its dwell time requirement. (Dwell times are the amount of time a message lasts between changes). The judge pointed out that the city offered no evidence that a dwell time of ten seconds on a surface street was unsafe while the same ten second dwell time was safe on a major interstate highway. He wondered where the studies were or data from government highway safety agencies. Judge Caddell (6th judicial circuit of Florida) pointed out that this created an unequal protection of the law for some classes that were more protected in their speech than others and called them a “double standard”. He then ruled the portion of the law with preferentially applied limits unconstitutional.
In August 2013, the City issued a citation to neurosurgeon Dr. David McKalip for violating the ordinance since his sign had moving text and dwell times less than 60 seconds. The scrolling text the city cited as a violation was the free speech clause from the Florida Constitution (“No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press”). The text with short dwell times was a call to cut taxes and spending by the St. Petersburg Government.
Dr. McKalip was represented by well known first amendment lawyer George Rahdert of the St. Petersburg law firm Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds and Driscoll. Dr. McKalip has been working to protect free speech rights and electronic sign use since 2011 when the city was harassing a local veterinarian for having a picture of cats and dogs on his electronic sign. Dr. McKalip also ran for St. Petersburg City Council in part to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected from an over-reaching government. The case represents a major victory to protect the free speech rights of citizens from governments that overstep their authority. Judge pointed out that governments have no authority other than that granted by the citizens and they are never empowered with violating the fundamental rights of their citizens who grant them that power. Dr. McKalip has indicated he will defend any attempt by the city to appeal the Judge’s ruling. Dr. McKalip thanks the Judge and his recognition that “the right to free speech is not granted by any government or the constitution, but a natural right we are born with – designed to be protected by our Constitution and the government established by the people through that Constitution”.