FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 24, 2008
Contact: Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
AUSTIN, Texas – County Judge J. David Phillips has upheld a 2005 Municipal Court ruling that a city ordinance banning the solicitation of drivers is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The ruling comes after John Francis Curran was arrested in June 2003 for violating a section (16-1-20) of the Code of the City of Austin prohibiting the solicitation of motor vehicles when he stood on an Austin street corner with a sign saying “Donations of any kind will help.” The Municipal Court had ordered that the charges against Curran be dismissed, but the State of Texas had appealed the order.
Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) and the Texas Civil Rights Project, Curran argued that the ordinance violated his freedom of speech. When it was issued, the Austin City Council stated that the ordinance was necessary to protect traffic and pedestrians.
TRLA attorney Robert Doggett, who represented Curran, noted, “The ordinance makes it illegal to hail a cab, buy ice cream from an ice cream truck, and sell lemonade in your own front yard. Even trying to wave down cars to get them into a charity car wash would be a crime. It’s ridiculous.”
Judge Phillips found that the ordinance limited speech more than it protected the public, particularly since it did not regulate well-known dangerous intersections. Because there are already State laws that regulate similar behavior, Judge Phillips argued that the City of Austin needed to be more specific in its restrictions.
“Making a law that lets the police trample people’s rights makes everybody less safe,” added Wayne Krause, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “With this victory, we salvaged our rights and our dignity. Austin should stick to enforcing the laws on the books and stop targeting homeless folks and laborers who simply want an honest day’s work.”
Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.