July 2009 - Circuit Court Judge Rules Panhandling Ordinances Unconstitutional

At a hearing on April 21, 2008, Judge Lorenzo A. Mejia denied the City of Medford's motion to dismiss the case, and both parties filed cross motions for summary judgment.  The judge verbally indicated that he would grant the ACLU’s motion.  However, before Judge Mejia issued his formal order, the City amended the ordinance at issue.  The ACLU submitted supplemental briefing, maintaining the challenge to the unamended portion of the ordinance that prohibited solicitation in certain areas.  In an Order dated March 19, 2009, the court concluded that the unamended portion of the ordinance violated the free expression provision of the Oregon Constitution (Article I, section 8), and granted summary judgment in favor of the ACLU. 

The Medford City Counsel appealed, and on June 15, 2009, the Court of Appeals assigned the case to the Appellate Settlement Conference Program.

April 2008 -- At a hearing April 21, Judge Lorenzo A. Mejia denied the city of Medford's motion to dismiss the case. The next hearing, on an ACLU motion for summary judgment, is set for 2 p.m. June 2, 2008.

March 6, 2008 -- The ACLU of Oregon this week filed a lawsuit against the City of Medford, challenging a new anti-panhandling ordinance as unconstitutional.

Previously, the ACLU had sent a letter to the Medford Chief of Police, as well as the Medford City Attorney, asking that they suspend the ordinance. City Attorney John R. Huttl replied, saying he disagreed with ACLU’s analysis and that the ordinance remains in effect.

The Oregon Constitution prohibits laws that restrict speech based on its content. The Medford ordinance prohibits solicitation for certain purposes including for “immediate donations” while allowing solicitation for others. Described by the city as “prohibiting abusive solicitation,” the ordinance makes such activity a criminal misdemeanor.

The Medford City Council approved the ordinance in November on a 6-1 vote. Councilman John Statler, the single dissenting vote, said at the time that passing the ordinance might result in a lawsuit such as the one filed this week. The law went into effect Jan. 1.

The ACLU holds that criminal activity on public streets impeding traffic, menacing, disorderly conduct and so on are punishable by existing law. Criminalizing some types of speech and permitting others violates Article 1, section 8, of the state constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, asks the court to declare the Medford ordinance unconstitutional and suspend its enforcement.

Justin M. Thorp of Martin, Bischoff, Templeton, Langslet & Hoffman LLP is the ACLU cooperating attorney on this case.

Date filed