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Early victory for local candidate as Herkimer rescinds signage law
HERKIMER, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Herkimer Village Board has voted unanimously to rescind an ordinance that had put restrictions on political signs.
The law had stated that signs could not be bigger than five square feet, or taller than 34-inches from the ground.
Mary Iocovozzi, who is a candidate for Herkimer County Family Court Judge, had filed a federal complaint against the village, saying that it violated first amendment rights.
"One Village Trustee told me to comply or to challenge them in court, which I ended up having to do," Iocovozzi explained. "This Trustee even told my campaign manager to sue the Village if I didn't like the ordinance and that she would make sure I lost at least 100 petition signatures if I didn't take down my signs. I was facing possible fines of $200 per day ($100 per sign). I tried several times to resolve the matter informally with them, but was unsuccessful and was the only candidate actually cited by the Village."
Iocovozzi complied and took down the two banners from her residence at 126 Mary St., which measured 3'x 6'. She then filed a federal suit to declare the sign ordinance unconstitutional because it violated free speech.
"Federal law is very clear that political speech is protected first amendment speech and can't be treated more strictly than commercial speech," Iocovozzi explained.
According to the ordinance, political signs cannot be more than 5 square feet, although some commercial signs are allowed to be as large as 32 square feet, such as signs put up by contractors.
"I did not go through the Zoning Board of Appeals, as some have suggested, because this Board has no jurisdiction to suspend enforcement of any law and certainly not to rule on a law's constitutionality," Iocovozzi said. "After the suit was filed I was contacted by the Village almost immediately to settle the federal case. I received a letter dated July 9 from the Village clerk that the ordinance was suspended on June 21 and would be repealed. The Village told me I could put back my signs."
Iocovozzi called the victory "bittersweet."
"This could have been avoided had the Village done any real research to begin with or simply looked at the law and information from the Dept of State I sent to them. Aren't they're sworn to follow the law and the Constitution?"
Iocovozzi said her research showed an abundance of case law that these kinds of ordinances are routinely considered by federal courts as unconstitutional restrictions of free speech, a violation of the First Amendment.