Milton settles with ACLU in yard sign dispute

WILMINGTON – Pointing to a revised ordinance, the ACLU of Delaware announced Thursday a settlement with the town of Milton regarding posted political signs.

Homeowner Penny Nickerson contested the municipality’s law that allowed political signs only 90 days preceding an election and 14 days afterward.

The ACLU agreed to drop the action filed on behalf of Ms. Nickerson in exchange for a new town ordinance that allows up to four temporary signs no larger than six square feet in size, regardless of the message.

The town agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of legal fees to the ACLU because it “was compelled to bring the lawsuit,” according to a news release.

“I am delighted,” said Ms. Nickerson, a retired school teacher.

“I wish the town had just listened to me back in February, but I’m grateful that the ACLU was there to protect our free speech rights and make the town follow the Constitution.”

According to ACLU Delaware Legal Director Richard Morse, Ms. Nickerson unsuccessfully attempted to meet with town officials and traded letters with their attorney after a town code enforcement notification ordered the signs down.

The signs following the 2017 presidential election carried messages including, among others, “Love Trumps Hate” and “Women’s Rights = Human Rights.”

The ACLU filed a state civil lawsuit in May, which was moved to federal court by the town. First Amendment free speech was at stake, the ACLU maintained.

The signs were erected between Nov. 9, 2016 and mid-February 2017, according to Ms. Nickerson. She was notified via letter on March 7, 2017 about a possible fine if she failed to remove them, the suit alleged. After she responded, another similar letter from the town came on April 5, 2017, according to the suit.

The suit complained that the town allowed other signs to be displayed all year while limiting political free speech.

Ms. Nickerson initially took down the signs, then both sides agreed shortly afterward that she could raise them during the litigation. The homeowner resides on Union Street.

“I am delighted,” Mr. Morse said. “I wish the town had just listened to me back in February, but I’m grateful that the ACLU was there to protect our free speech rights and make the town follow the Constitution.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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