BANGOR — For the City Council, it was one of the most difficult issues of 1996 — and it’s back.
A council workshop on targeted residential picketing will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the third floor of City Hall.
After the council passed an ordinance prohibiting such picketing, pro-lifers Terence Hughes of Orono and Ronald Stauble of Unity tested it on Labor Day 1996 and were tried in 3rd District Court for violating the ordinance.
Justice Susan Calkins, sitting in District Court during the trial, found in favor of the defendants on the grounds that the ordinance was unconstitutional, a decision Justice Margaret Kravchuk has upheld on appeal to Penobscot County Superior Court.
Now the City Council is in the process of deciding whether to try again to pass a new ordinance that could stand up in court.
The first measure came together during the summer of 1996 after lengthy public meetings whose speakers included not only pro-lifers but representatives of groups such as the National Organization of Women, the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center and CUReS — Communities United for Reproductive Safety.
Also taking part were some of those who didn’t like the picketing outside their homes — gynecologists who said they didn’t want their neighbors subjected to the signs and posters carried by picketers in protest of abortion.
As it turned out, the case which tested the ordinance didn’t involve a doctor’s home, but that of U.S. Rep. John Baldacci.
The Labor Day incident established the fact that it wasn’t only the abortion signs that would draw a summons from Bangor police. While Stauble carried a sign pointing out Baldacci’s vote on “partial-birth abortion,” Hughes’ sign said “Re-elect Baldacci.”
It’s not easy to define targeted residential picketing — in fact, the very definition of the activity was a major factor in the ordinance’s failure in court.
Describing targeted picketing as an activity directed at a particular residence or dwelling seemed to work, but in a new ordinance draft City Solicitor Erik Stumpfel has deleted several examples that were in the previous measure.
In the old ordinance, both justices faulted the 300-foot buffer zone established around the targeted residence, so Stumpfel has changed that to a 100-foot distance.
Stumpfel has prepared for councilors more than just his own document. Other materials they may consider include a similar measure which survived testing in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on the federal level.
He also has invited input from two attorneys who have been involved in the issue — Stephen Whiting, who has represented and advised Hughes, Stauble and other pro-lifers; and Philip Worden, who works with the Mabel Wadsworth Center and CUReS.
Stumpfel said Friday he had received written comments on the ordinance draft from Whiting in Portland.
If a new measure were passed, it could protect only the targeted residence and immediate neighbors. As Kravchuk pointed out in her decision, picketers targeting Baldacci, for example, could carry their signs in front of a campaign manager’s house, for instance, without being in violation of even a valid ordinance.