BANGOR — It’s anyone’s guess whether the City Council will try to fix up an ordinance on targeted residential picketing so that it can stand up in court, but the process has at least started.
The original ordinance was struck down a year ago in 3rd District Court after receiving its first test on Labor Day 1996. Pro-lifers Terence Hughes of Orono and Ronald Stauble of Unity had carried signs mentioning U.S. Rep. John Baldacci in front of the congressman’s Palm Street home.
The municipal operations committee voted Tuesday to send revisions proposed by City Solicitor Erik Stumpfel to the council for a first reading on Monday, and a hearing and workshop on Feb. 3.
In the original case, Stauble’s sign made reference to Baldacci’s vote on “partial-birth” abortions, and Hughes’ read “Re-elect Baldacci,” a slogan he said was intended to determine whether police would enforce the ordinance even when the message was favorable to the person named on the sign.
Justice Susan Calkins, who ruled in favor of Hughes and Stauble in December 1996, and Justice Margaret Kravchuk, who upheld the ruling in a Penobscot County Superior Court decision in November 1997, faulted the 300-foot distance the ordinance said picketers must stay from a targeted residence. They also criticized the ordinance’s reliance on the content of the signs as a way to determine whether the signs were targeted picketing.
Thus one of the revisions proposed by Stumpfel would change the 300-foot buffer to a 100-foot distance on either side of the targeted residence.
Other changes would change certain definitions in the original ordinance.
In that measure, “targeted” had been used to describe “activity that is directed at a particular residence or dwelling or the occupants thereof,” going on to list some examples.
In an attempt to bring the ordinance in line with Kravchuk’s decision, the revised ordinance would delete the examples, but add the phrase, “and proceeds on a definite course or route in front of or around that particular residence or dwelling.”
The proposed measure would keep the portion of the definition of “picket” that describes it as “one or more persons stationed, assembled, gathered, standing, marching, demonstrating or patrolling outside of a …” adding the phrase “residence or dwelling, while displaying information through some medium.” Deleted would be references to signs, banners, posters or photographs, written, graphic or printed information about the location or persons therein.
It wasn’t an easy decision for Councilors Michael Aube, Nichi Farnham and Michael Crowley to decide to proceed with revising the ordinance.
Stumpfel told the committee he had tried his best to craft revisions that responded to Kravchuk’s decision, but the revised ordinance would have to be passed and tested in order to find out. Another time, another judge might follow Kravchuk’s thinking, or might take another view. Even federal courts have disagreed over the issue, he said.
Both councilors and staff agreed that if a revised ordinance were passed, it would probably be tested in court. If the city won, Stumpfel pointed out, then the picketers in the case would probably appeal.
The ordinance was passed in 1996 after complaints from neighbors of gynecologists who were picketed by various pro-life activists conducting what they described as “educational activities” in the neighborhoods.
Police Chief Randy Harriman told the committee Tuesday that police had received few complaints since the ordinance was overturned, probably because neighbors knew police couldn’t do much at this point.
“I’m getting the complaints,” said Deanna Partridge, director of the CUReS Project — Communities United for Reproductive Safety.
Partridge urged the committee not to rush to approve revisions to the ordinance, because her organization and other interested people would like some time to put together their thoughts on Stumpfel’s proposed revisions.
Also on Tuesday, the committee voted to recommend that the council extend the juvenile curfew ordinance to Dec. 31, 1998.
The ordinance has a sunset provision, which requires that the City Council review it annually and take a formal vote if it is to be renewed.
Reviewing the measure — and whether there is a continuing need for it — yearly helps make the ordinance more defensible in court, Stumpfel said.