St. Pete Electronic Sign Law Ruled Unconstitutional – Doctor Prevails in Challenging City Ordinance.

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).


Related Stories: 
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.

Sunbeam Times Founder and Local Neurosurgeon Dr. David McKalip prevailed in challenging the constitutionality of St. Petersburg's sign ordinance on electronic signs.

Sunbeam Times founder and local neurosurgeon Dr. David McKalip prevailed in challenging the constitutionality of St. Petersburg’s sign ordinance on electronic signs. “This protects the right of all citizens to speak without government oppression”.

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”.

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19 Replies:

    1. Paul J. Marino

      It is fortunate that Dr. McKalip has the resources to challenge the deep pockets of the City of St. Petersburg regarding their unconstitutional sign ordinance. After the several challenges against the City of Clearwater’s sign ordinance that went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, you would think they would know better. This reads like pure politics, plain and simple. The article posted here is sure worthy of re-publication on our website http://www.exposepubliccorruptors.org. Thanks Dr. McKalip for all that you are doing for the citizens of Pinellas County. We need more professional people who are willing to standup and speak out on major issues.

  1. Annie

    Congratulations! Finally, a constitutional victory in Pinellas….next week at the appeals court in Lakeland is the term limits lawsuit (we voted it into law in 1996 and it never became part of our county charter or enforced after 2012’s Florida Supreme Court ruling – Sarasota complied as did all counties in Florida except Pinellas!). Maybe we’ll finally be able to return to lawfulness and constitutionality!

    We are so proud of your victory and your support for our constitutional rights…..bestowed upon us by God and by his grace, we live in America.

  2. JohnB

    Thank you, Dr. McKalip, for your continued service to the citizens of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
    You have shown us that our efforts to curb government overreach are warranted and effective.

  3. Boss Tweed

    Great. Now, how are our civic leaders going to make our sign bonuses? I guess that we’ll have to put more effort into expanding the transportation budget, for our children of course.

  4. Jennifer Kniskern

    Hi David—after seeing the video, it’s clear you were arbitrarily and unjustly targeted for nothing more than the opinion presented on your scrolling sign.

    Congrats to you and your attorney! And, thank you to Judge Caddell for his fair and just ruling.

    The city, in the least, should apologize for wasting valuable time and tax payer expense on such a frivolous claim. Better yet, they should reimburse you for your legal fees.

    Everyone–including those who brought the claim–should be glad their speech rights continue to be protected, regardless of their opinion.

    JenK

  5. PEDRO

    Get ready because here comes more “South of the Border” type, bright moving signs to distract the drivers that aren’t already looking at their phones texting. It’s scary enough on the road without giving drivers something else to focus their attention on. For all those congratulating the “doctor”, I hope somebody puts a cheesy bright sign up close enough to your home to keep you up at night.

    1. Sun Beam Times Post author

      Thanks Pedro,
      City ordinance prevents such signs in residential neighborhood. No challenge there.
      THe Judge pointed out that the city provided no evidence whatsoever that public safety would be protected….especially when they allow these signs with ten second dwells on I 275!

    2. Jen

      “Pedro”…I’d gladly welcome a cheesy bright sign in front of my home over losing my free speech rights. And I’d sleep just fine, too.

    3. Tom

      Pedro, I think there is a better chance that I keep my eyes on a sign that changes every ten seconds than there is on a sign that is constant for 60 seconds. Now add to it that I am driving 65 to 70 MPH on curving I 275, what would you rather have?

      1. Pedro from South of the Border

        I don’t mind the digital billboards on I275 because they usually don’t change for the average driver. The Doctors sign is “scrolling”…… which means it’s constantly moving, along a street with walkers & bikers, and other cars. There CERTAINLY is a better chance you keep your eyes on a moving sign…..instead of paying full attention to driving in a residential area. I don’t understand how even reasonably intelligent people can’t/won’t realize that distracted drivers are a safety issue. I’ve been in a bad accident caused by a distracted driver.

        1. Sun Beam Times Post author

          “Pedro” (Why won’t you use your real name?),

          The city allows human “sign spinners” in front of any and every business in St. Pete. Is that not more distracting? Is the flashing light of a police care distrcting? How about a line of bikers hogging an entire lane of the street? The fact is there are far more distracting things. In addition, the city has NOT produced any evidence that this cuases a public safety problem. These scrolling and moving signs are all over cities in Pinellas (except St. PETE) they are not causing accidents there.

  6. Dorine

    Congratulations on your win against Kona and their attempt to limit on what St. Petersburg businesses can do with with regard to signage and billboards.

    1. Pedro from South of the Border

      If you are talking about CONA, without CONA, who is all about improving neighborhoods, pushing for changes to what the billboard company wanted, the old dilapidated wooden signs would still be up all over the city, the I275 billboards would be almost blinking different messages, and there would be a heck of a lot more of them everywhere. Florida drivers are already bad enough without giving them more distractions. Just think if every business along 4th St or 62nd Ave, where the Doctors sign is, put up a scrolling sign. Even Disneyland doesn’t do that.

      1. Sun Beam Times Post author

        Pedro, if you have any relationship with CONA, you should reveal that conflict of interest.
        There would be no problems with every business having a scrolling sign – just like every business can have a sign spinner.
        However, Just as not every business has a human sign spinner (very cheap), not every business will spend about $30K to put one of these signs either….

  7. Dave

    I agree with Dr McKalip about a lot of things, just not that St Pete needs more signage of any type. Since it matters so much to some people, I'll use Dave instead of Pedro….but it's okay to use names like “Boss Tweed” “Westech” to post as long as u agree with the Doctor?

    There is no "conflict of interest" with me being involved with CONA. CONA did not create nor does it enforce any kind of city sign ordinance.The argument that there are "far more distracting things" on the road already, just proves my point that more distractions shouldn't be added.

    1. Sun Beam Times Post author

      Pedro/Dave you are free to post here as a pseudonym. However, when you start to post position points that are consistent with a political group you are involved in (CONA) then the right thing to do is to reveal the Conflict of interest. Others with pseudonyms, who I have verified offline, have no such conflicts of interest. I have revealed my conflict of interest constantly by indicating I am a donor and supporter of No Tax for Tracks for instance when discussing the proposed Rail tax. Pedro/Dave, you are a President of a local St. Petersburg Neighborhood Association and active in the Council on Neighborhood Associations. It was CONA that took THE LEAD in passing the ban on electronic signage. The public record is clear on that. Without the political pressure from CONA, such a ban would NOT have occurred.

      As far as the distractions, I suggest to you that you find some data or studies that show that electronic message centers increase traffic accidents. The data actually shows there is NO increase in accidents. http://www.kineticww.nl/blog/2013/01/14/electronic-message-centers-do-not-result-in-an-increase-in-traffic-accidents/ is a link describing one such study.

      The fact is that CONA and the anti-sign crowd have a bias against the electronic signs. They just don’t like they way they look and used many silly arguments to stop them (e.g. we would have a vegas strip or accidents would go up). It is NOT acceptable for an active minority or even a majority of voters to remove God-given, inborn Natural Rights to free speech. There are certain things that governments are FORBIDDEN to do and removing free speech rights is one of them.

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