San Clemente is prepared to rescind or modify an anti-leafleting law that a federal court has ruled is unconstitutional.
The city announced the court decision Tuesday in a news release that asserted the city had defeated a lawsuit challenging the ordinance because the court awarded no dollar damages to the plaintiffs.
The release acknowledged that the ordinance was declared unconstitutional. Mayor Jim Dahl, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, said it is too early to say whether the City Council will rescind the ordinance or amend it.
"We haven't talked about it," he said.
Bill Gillespie, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients prevailed on three of their four claims.
"The ordinance was found to violate both the federal and California constitutions' free-speech clauses," Gillespie said Tuesday afternoon via e-mail. He said that while his clients did seek damages, those "were a distant secondary objective."
Steve Klein, who owns an insurance company in Hemet, challenged San Clemente's ordinance after sheriff's deputies in 2007 stopped a group opposed to illegal immigration from placing handbills beneath windshield wipers on cars parked on San Clemente streets.
Klein and nine other plaintiffs filed a complaint in a federal court asserting that the city had violated their right to free speech.
The city said it was an anti-litter ordinance, pointing out that the law didn't prevent person-to-person leafleting.
The court decided not to halt the law, but a plaintiffs' motion for a temporary injunction led the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an opinion that ordinances like San Clemente's are unconstitutional "unless the city involved can produce specific, objective evidence that such leafleting causes significant amounts of litter."
Gillespie said at least two other cities have repealed similar ordinances in response to the 9th Circuit's opinion.
The city asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter, but the high court chose not to intervene and left it to a U.S. District Court to decide.
Tuesday's news release quotes Dahl as saying "the City Council is now prepared to rescind or amend the ordinance to abide by the suit."
"This lawsuit was very unfortunate, as the city's anti-litter ordinance was established for no other reason than as a beautification tool," Dahl said in the statement.
The City Council will consider what to do about the ordinance during a closed session, but officials couldn't immediately say when.
The city's news release described the ordinance as "an effort to lesson the amount of trash and annoyance to beach visitors ... caused by the frequent placement of fliers and other literature on parked cars."
The release urged residents to continue efforts to keep litter off streets and beaches "by properly disposing of unwanted trash."