Gulf Stream: Suit argues ‘unauthorized signs’ are protected speech

By Thomas R. Collins
That Tweedle Dee, that Tweedle Dum, that Ku Klux Klan-esque hood labeled “satire,” and a mule labeled “Mayor” on the side of Martin O’Boyle’s house?
    They’re “not just paint.”
    They’re constitutionally protected free speech, O’Boyle says. And he’s filed a federal lawsuit to keep town officials from making him paint over the cartoons.
    O’Boyle has been at odds with the town after a decision in March rejected his request for variances he wanted in order to build a 25-foot entry tower as part of the remodeling of his $1.6 million waterfront home on Hidden Harbour Drive. O’Boyle argues that variances are actually not needed for the changes. He has made his displeasure with the town known with a collection of cartoons making fun of — and outright insulting —town officials. A green ogre wearing a shirt and tie, for instance, is labeled as the “Vice Mayor.”
    Town officials have cited O’Boyle for code violations, saying the paintings amounted to unauthorized signs, that the colors are not on the approved list and that the paintings did not go through the proper review process.
    O’Boyle is scheduled to appear before the town code enforcement magistrate on June 4.  But the suit seeks an injunction to stop the town’s code-enforcement efforts in its tracks, arguing that O’Boyle’s case is likely to succeed and that continuing with code enforcement would cause O’Boyle irreparable harm.
    “O’Boyle maintains that the paintings … are in fact speech, and not just paint,” his attorney, Robert Gershman of Delray Beach, argues in the suit.
    He says that other homes are decorated for holidays and special occasions and are not subject to code enforcement.
    “Decorative wreaths, skeletons, turkeys, angels, snowpersons, and other like type adhesive decor has been placed upon the Town homes in a common and annual ritual,” he says.
    Gershman downplayed one difference: that those decorations can be removed easily while paint is more permanent.
    In an interview, Gershman said, “Practically and lawfully, the issue should not be the mobility or content, it should be preventing the town from selectively enforcing what they don’t like.”
    Asked about the effects should every home in the town be painted with free-speech-protected cartoons, Gershman said he couldn’t speak for other homeowners, but said, “Mr. O’Boyle’s are legitimate, purposeful and within his constitutional rights.”
    The town’s attorney, John Randolph, is out of the office as of this writing and Town Manager Bill Thrasher had not replied by deadline to requests for comment.                        

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