February 8th, 2008

Judge Upholds Ticket Issued for Portable Signs

By Catherine Kavanaugh
Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI)

Sign company owner mulls his next legal action

Business owner Kenneth McNeil on Thursday paid a $100 ticket that was issued last fall when his employees strapped on signs to promote a going-out-of-business sale for Foland’s jewelry store.

McNeil and one of the employees, Terry Smith of Detroit, had filed a motion to have their tickets dismissed, but 44th District Court Judge Terrence Brennan denied the request for McNeil. Smith is due in court next month.

McNeil’s attorney, Kenneth Wrobel Jr., argued that the owner of McNeil Marketing never wore a sign in Royal Oak.

“What section of the ordinance did he violate simply by being the business owner?” Wrobel asked.

Brennan said the Grosse Pointe businessman violated the portable sign provision of Royal Oak’s sign ordinance by hiring six people to walk around wearing sandwich boards with commercial advertising.

“He made the signs and caused them to be displayed,” the judge said.

Wrobel also raised the argument that human beings are mobile, not portable, and what people wear, such as a message for a lawful activity, is protected speech under the First Amendment.

However, the judge said municipalities have the power to regulate commercial speech in situations where government restrictions maintain traffic safety and aesthetics.

“Sandwich board signs worn by people are distracting to traffic,” Brennan said.

McNeil said he would pay the ticket and look at his options, which include appealing Brennan’s decision or filing a civil lawsuit in federal court to address Constitutional issues.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’ve never seen a city so against it,” McNeil said. “I specialize in jewelry stores and did Sidney Krandall and Sons in Troy. We had people carrying sticks with signs on them on Big Beaver and no one was ticketed.”

McNeil said ads worn or carried by people on weekends bring in 70 percent more customers to a business.

“People see there’s a sale right now and will take a look for immediate gratification,” McNeil said. “This form of advertising is getting popular. Wait until you see our guys on motor scooters wearing orange to promote Tiger games downtown. It’s a good concept.”

McNeil said he also has clients wanting to promote condominium sales in Royal Oak with what he calls “wearable signs.”

“It’s going to take time and it’s going to cost money, but I think this is a case worth fighting,” McNeil said.

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