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RULING KILLS ORDINANCE CURBING POLITICAL SIGNS

In a decision that may have widespread implications, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny has ruled that Cheektowaga's ordinance restricting the display of political signs deprives candidates of their First Amendment rights of free speech.

Skretny granted a permanent injunction against the sign regulations on behalf of the plaintiff, Janice L. Kowalski-Kelly, and anyone else who wants to display a campaign sign in the town.

"I'm very pleased," Mrs. Kowalski-Kelly said Monday. "I felt it was wrong right from its inception."

Mrs. Kowalski-Kelly sought the injunction last August after she learned that the law forbid her to post a sign in her front lawn after she won the Republican endorsement to run for town supervisor.

The judge's preliminary injunction, issued in September, allowed about two extra weeks for display of signs.

Mrs. Kowalski-Kelly had fought Cheektowaga's ordinance, which prohibits the posting of campaign signs more than 30 days before the election, since it was passed in 1992.

In making his decision, Skretny noted that the Cheektowaga ordinance gives preference to commercial speech over non-commercial political speech, that it gives agencies and inspectors "unbridled discretion with respect to sign placement and maintenance" and that it requires a permit fee and a $50 deposit, which "may be an unconstitutional tax."

Like Cheektowaga, many Western New York communities have passed ordinances in recent years to restrict where and when people could put up political signs.

Al Greene, Mrs. Kowalski-Kelly's attorney, said he expects that these ordinances will have to be revised.

"I think we'll have to go back and tighten up the areas that have to be refined," Cheektowaga Supervisor Dennis Gabryszak said Monday. "The intent was never to restrict people from getting their signs up."

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