For selectively taking down campaign signs that opposed the transportation bond, the Town has been sued in Superior Court of Arizona by Mr. Jim Torgesen of Gilbert.
The lawsuit presents two questions for the court. First, a question to void the bond election due to “misconduct on the part of the Town and its officers and for offenses against the electoral franchise.” In other words, Mr. Torgesen claims the actions from the Town and certain officers illegally influenced the outcome of the election. The second deals with the Town’s actions of removing signs. Mr. Torgesen claims this action violated his Constitutionally protected first amendment right to political speech.
Mr. Torgesen obtained many emails through the public records request process that show the Town going to unusual length to remove his signs. The Town claimed he didn’t have the correct information on the sign and removed many of his signs shortly after they were posted. At the same time, Town staff left up dozens of other signs which were illegally posted around Town.
Roadside sides are viewed by thousands of people every day. It’s a very common way to raise awareness for candidates and issues in upcoming elections. By the Town removing Mr. Torgesen’s signs for multiple days, it’s unclear how this impacted the election result. Given the slim victory for the bond it seems likely that the Town’s actions favored the passage of the bond.
Under the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, individuals are able to post political signs without the same requirements as political committees.
Being able to publicly criticize the actions of government is a basic tenet of the free speech doctrine upheld in court many times. Political and religious speech are some of the most Constitutionally-protected speech in the United States.
Some aspects of this case are similar to the Reed vs. Gilbert case in that the Town removed Mr. Torgesen’s based on the content of the sign. The content of the signs varied, but generally opposed the unpopular Mayor of Gilbert as well as encouraging people to oppose the bond. In 2014, Supreme Court of the United States, Gilbert lost its case 9-0 in a stinging rebuke. This case centered on the content of a sign and caused every sign code in the US to be updated.
GilbertWatch will be following this court case and continue to provide additional information on this topic.