March 29, 2020

Bangor reworking ordinance on targeted residential pickets

BANGOR — A city ordinance banning targeted residential picketing was struck down twice in the span of 11 months. Now that measure is being reworked by the city attorney in the hopes that it will stand up in court.

City councilors attending the meeting of the municipal operations committee at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall will hear about changes being recommended in the ordinance. The measure was tested in the fall of 1996 when the city prosecuted pro-lifers Terence Hughes of Orono and Ronald Stauble of Unity in 3rd District Court.

Hughes and Stauble had been summoned for carrying signs in the area of U.S. Rep. John Baldacci’s home on Palm Street.

Stauble’s sign depicted “partial-birth abortion” and stated the congressman had voted for “this crime against humanity.” Hughes held a sign saying, “Re-Elect Baldacci,” to test whether he would be prosecuted for carrying a sign favorable to the person being targeted.

Justice Susan Calkins, sitting in District Court at the time of the trial, found in favor of the defendants in December 1996. The city appealed the matter to Penobscot County Superior Court, and Justice Margaret Kravchuk upheld the ruling in November 1997.

Both justices faulted the 300-foot distance that the ordinance said picketers must remain from the targeted residence, and especially the ordinance’s reliance on the content of the signs as the method by which police would decide whether people were picketing.

And yet, Kravchuk pointed out in her decision, the way the ordinance was written, a picketer could carry the same signs about Baldacci in front of the home of a campaign manager and not violate the measure.

She criticized the city’s definition of a picket, writing that it couldn’t refer to sign information as being “about the fixed location or activities or persons therein,” and said that a buffer of one house on each side of the targeted residence was more reasonable than 300 feet.

City Solicitor Erik Stumpfel said Wednesday that he had sent the council a memo on Dec. 12 to outline his recommendations about reworking the ordinance.

He said he preferred not to discuss the specifics until Tuesday’s meeting, but said the intent was to amend the ordinance so that it would be “in line with Justice Kravchuk’s decision.”

The changes planned are “not anything large,” he said, “basically a reworking of the definitions in the ordinance.”

Also on Tuesday’s agenda will be a request from Dirigo Search and Rescue to use the former City Animal Shelter on Texas Avenue. The shelter moved last summer to the new quarters of the Bangor Humane Society on Mount Hope Avenue.

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