City of Neenah Backs Down on Enforcing Illegal Ordinance

Quick hearing today reinforced First Amendment rights, yard sign to stay up while litigation moves forward

The News: U.S. District Judge William Griesbach held a hearing today on the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s case against the City of Neenah, over an unconstitutional sign ordinance. The city agreed to suspend the enforcement of the illegal ordinance while the case against it moves forward.

The Quotes: WILL Deputy Counsel, Lucas Vebber, stated, “We are certainly pleased the city has agreed not to enforce this unlawful ordinance while this lawsuit moves forward. Our clients can now continue exercising their First Amendment rights without fear of prosecution while this case proceeds.”

WILL Associate Counsel, Cara Tolliver, stated, “Impeding fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech and expression, is inexcusable. The City of Neenah has correctly backed down on enforcing this unlawful ordinance.”

“It’s a relief to know that our city is backing down on enforcing this ordinance against us while our case moves forward. We are thankful for WILL’s efforts to uphold our own First Amendment rights, and we look forward to a final resolution of this issue in the near future.” said WILL Client, Tim Florek.

Background: The City of Neenah sent a number of “Notice of Violation” letters to residents in an effort to shut down public debate, and order citizens to remove signs that oppose the re-zoning by early February. WILL Clients, Tim and Megan Florek, received this letter from the city, accusing them of violating the city’s sign ordinance. The penalty for non-compliance was a fine of up to $500 for the first offense, and up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense. Each day that the sign was displayed was considered a separate offense.

WILL sent a demand letter on January 17th of this year, putting the city on notice about this violation of First Amendment rights. WILL demanded that the city withdraw the Notice of Violation and provide assurances that the ordinance would not be enforced within five days of receiving the letter, but the city did not comply. Thus, WILL filed suit against the city just this Monday. Since the City had ordered the sign come down by February 8, 2023, WILL moved the Court for a Temporary Restraining Order to stop enforcement of the ordinance while the Court considered WILL’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the ordinance.

The Hearing: Today, the Court held a hearing to discuss WILL’s motions. In lieu of granting the temporary restraining order, the city agreed not to enforce the ordinance while the court considered WILL’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Briefing on that motion will be completed by the end of March.

Lucas Vebber

Lucas Vebber

Deputy Counsel

Cara Tolliver

Cara Tolliver

Associate Counsel

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