Attached is an impassioned email from a loyal customer in the DC area. It’s about some of the laws that have been passed regarding the placement of so-called ‘Bandit Signs’, or Yard Signs, and their response. This customer game me permission to post the email, on the condition I leave out the author’s name. It’s a bit long, but for those of you interested in the topic its still a very good read.
You’ll also see there is a letter attached from a Real Estate Investor to the ACLU…
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I have been advised by my attorneys to simply change the phone number on the sign to an unpublished number. We rotate the phone numbers and we don’t list our company name in my home state, VA. I made it difficult for them to fine us ($100 a sign in VA, $500 a sign in MD). I changed our business over to an LLC from a sole proprietorship. Now, the registered agent for the company resides in 100 miles from the jurisdiction where we put the signs.
We never put the signs out during the day. We start putting them out after 5:00 p.m. This makes it impossible for the Virginia, Maryland, and DC department’s of transportation to fine us since they don’t work after 5. They are the ones who have the jurisdiction to fine us (they can only fine us if they see someone named in our company’s LLC put a sign in the ground). We also purchased this device that puts the signs high up on poles. Those signs stay up for a week or more. We also use two sided tape to tape them to the metal sign poles in the medians.
Our lawyer told us to politely point out to a cop-should they harass us-that putting signs out is not a criminal violation. We are told to say to all cops, “Do you have jurisdiction over this matter? Is this a criminal violation? My lawyer told us it wasn’t. Have a good day officer.”
My arrangement sounds sleazy at first glance, but I have had several lawyers look at our local sign ordinances. They have told me that they are a blatant violation of our commercial free speech. I figure it would cost me around a half a million dollars to fight the local ordinances. It’s a lot simpler to play dirty like the Realtors and politicians. Also, if I did fight the sign ordinances in our area, there’s a good chance they might actually write a proper sign ordinance (no signs for anyone anywhere in this jurisdiction). Protecting free speech is my second priority. Making a living is my first.
The lazy government worker who picks up one of our signs can’t fine us because the phone number on the sign is simply not listed when they do a reverse search. It would cost them much more than what they would make fines to get a court order to find out who we are. They just don’t bother. The local powers that be do, however, call us up every so often to tell us that, “They are going to do a sting on us.” Well, they did. I thanked them for letting me know as well. They tried to do it by having a well marked county vehicle follow me around one day. To make a long story short, I stopped my car after a few miles of him tailing me, waved a sign at them and smiled. Then I walked into a Mac Donald’s, sat down at a table by the window and stared at them parked in the middle of the road staring at me. (Legally, they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t see me put the sign in the ground). Anyway, I exchanged my car for a rental for the next few weeks, started putting the signs out at night and I haven’t seen them or heard from them since.
The bottom line. Many jurisdictions around the country are being sued by bigger businesses with bigger budgets and they are winning. A sign ordinance with an exception for one group or another violates several supreme court decisions as outlined in the attached documents. There’s a lot more bullshit we have encountered over the ordinances, but I think we have a handle on it now.
Suing the government is extremely expensive. Check out your local chapter of the ACLU. The Thomas Jefferson Center also agreed to do all of the legal research for us for free in conjunction with our lawyer should we ever decide to go to court. Our lawyers have told us that a lawsuit against the government requires endless billable hours of research. There are hundreds of law clinics that could aid in that research for free.
There’s a lot more to all of this than I mentioned in this email. Google Reid Cox and read his Constitutional Primer On Sign Ordinances. I also attached a letter-PDF-that I gave to the Director of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU.