The sculpture as it appeared in July.

Judge rules Saugatuck can’t limit ‘butterfly’s’ number of opinions

By: 
By Daniel Pepper Staff Writer

An Allegan County judge has ruled Saugatuck’s ordinance regulating the number of opinion signs a property owner may display at once is unconstitutional.

Allegan County District Court Judge Joseph S. Skocelas dismissed a civil infraction the city was seeking against the owners of 790 Lake St., John Porzondek and James Serman.

The pair had repurposed a metal canopy they were forced to take down by the city into what Serman testified was “misfit art” which includes messages like “Return our roof,” “Fix the fraud,” “WTF!!” (Wait, Think and Forgive per Porzondek) and “This is art.”

Skocelas ruled regulations exactly like the ordinance’s limitation of property owners to only three “opinion signs” on a property had been disallowed by U.S. Supreme Court cases in other municipalities, including one involving the City of Troy.

“The case law I’m referring to says you can’t do that,” Skocelas said. “It’s their private property and they’re expressing their personal opinion.

“These cases go back over 20 years. They are nothing new.”

Porzondek, who represented himself, said he was sorry the judge hadn’t quite accepted his argument the butterfly was art and not an opinion, but he and Serman were happy with the ruling.

“We are grateful the court recognized that this did affect our free speech and it was a First Amendment violation,” Porzondek said.

Contact Dan Pepper at dpepper@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534 or (269) 685-9571.

For full story, pick up a copy of the Sept. 11 issue of The Allegan County News or The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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