WorldNetDaily has been covering a story where a businessman in Clearwater, Fl, is being fined $500/day for displaying a banner of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
It started with the owner, Herb Quintero, hiring an artist to paint fish on his tackle shop. The City told him it was signage because it depicted a product the business sold, even though the business doesn’t sell fish, and he was fined. They told him to paint over the fish, but he refused and placed the banner with the First Amendment on it. The city is fining him $500/day for the banner.
The City admitted that if he had put up an American flag, they would not be fining him; however, the City had lost a previous lawsuit where they fined a business for flying too many American flags.
City: American flag OK, but Constitution illegal
Businessman fined $500 a day for displaying Bill of Rights, artwork
Posted: March 04, 2009
8:59 pm Eastern By Joe Kovacs
© 2009 WorldNetDaily
Herb Quintero says a mural of marine life on his store is artwork, not a sign, and he’s now suing Clearwater, Fla. He has since posted a banner of the First Amendment over the game fish. (courtesy Tampa Tribune)
CLEARWATER, Fla. – City officials here apparently don’t have a problem with flying the American flag, but posting the text of the U.S. Constitution is a very different story.
A federal judge is now deciding if government officials are going overboard in fining a Florida bait and tackle shop owner $500 a day for displaying the First Amendment atop a mural of marine life on his building.
U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins today heard initial arguments in a federal lawsuit as the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking an injunction to stop the city of Clearwater from fining businessman Herb Quintero.
Under questioning by Quintero’s team, the city’s lone witness, Planning Director Michael Delk, was forced to admit that if the business had posted a U.S. flag instead of a First Amendment banner, it’s likely the Quintero family would not have been cited for violating the sign code.
Ironically, in 1993, Clearwater lost a case that began when it fined a car dealership for flying too many American flags. A federal appeals court ruled against the city, invalidating the city’s sign ordinance as “facially unconstitutional.“
WND first brought the plight of Herb Quintero to national attention last week, and the story struck an immediate chord with Americans fed up with what they perceive to be government overstepping its authority. Comments of outrage from across the nation and world have since been flooding in.
“They’re very abusive, profane, insulting e-mails,” City Manager Bill Horne told the St. Petersburg Times. “People are passionate about the First Amendment, and rightfully so. I happen to believe we did the right thing.”
One letter from a U.S. captain serving in Iraq was read into the court record today, as he berated city officials: “You have no right to override the Constitution and the principals for which so many men and women have fought and died to uphold.”
The tale began in December 2007 when Herb and Lori Quintero invested their life savings to purchase and renovate a dilapidated building they turned into the Complete Angler, a shop selling fishing accessories such as rods, reels and live and frozen bait.
To help spruce up the building’s image, they hired an artist who began a giant mural of marine life featuring a half-dozen game fish such as snook, dolphin, grouper and sailfish. The artwork was halted, though, because the city claims it violates the strict sign code prohibiting murals on businesses that depict a product the company sells. However, the Complete Angler does not sell game fish.
According to the lawsuit, city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli was quoted as saying the artwork “depicts what he’s selling and that’s considered signage. If it was a mural of kids playing in a park, that would be acceptable.”
Clearwater began to fine Quintero, and he initially pleaded no contest, agreeing to pay $690.
But the businessman refused the city’s demand to paint over the fish, and in protest, he posted a giant banner with text of the First Amendment in front of the mural.
A giant banner promoting free speech right is posted in protest on top of Herb Quintero’s marine life mural in Clearwater, Fla.
The large banner is what prompted the city to hook Quintero with fines of $500 a day.
Among the ACLU attorneys on Quintero’s side is James Green, perhaps best known for helping Donald Trump fight $1,250-a-day fines for flying a large American flag at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.
Early in today’s proceedings, the judge did not appear to be impressed with attorneys from the city or the ACLU.
“I will say I’m somewhat disappointed in both sides by your arguments,” Jenkins said. “I expected more.”
After asking for a “higher level of advocacy,” the magistrate said, “I just really don’t feel that this case has been articulated very well.”
Judge Jenkins said she’d take the matter under consideration before making her recommendation, though she didn’t specify when that might be.
“We are hoping for a swift ruling that grants the Complete Angler’s request for preliminary injunctive relief and confirms their First Amendment rights,” ACLU spokesman Brandon Hensler told WND.
On the St. Petersburg Times website, news photographer Jim Damaske has posted a gallery of similar murals found throughout Clearwater.
Business owners and citizens in the Clearwater area have created a website called KeeptheFish.com to help Quintero. The site says in the wake of WND’s exposure, it has been inundated with “tons of comments from all over the country” that were sent to Jeff Kronschnabl, the director of code enforcement, and other Clearwater officials.
Some reader comments posted online today about the dispute include:
- Your tax money at work. Time to oust all the Clearwater city clowns.
- Please throw these morons out of office! They are trying to raise money for their bloated salaries, budgets and benefits. We need to get rid of the Nazis in our government. Idiots!
- Ridiulous case. The Pinellas County Maintenance Dept. on 509 East Ave., two blocks from the downtown Clearwater courthouse has fish murals on multiple buildings. Government buildings are OK, but business owners must pay!
I think Clearwater clearly made a mistake by issuing the fines in the first place. Now they are too red in the face to admit it. I do enjoy the fact that the sitting judge essentially told both sides’ counsel that they suck at their jobs. Good times.