If you think sign companies use the courts to intimidate the city, you’re not alone. In a ruling today, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins said she suspected that a contempt motion brought by World Wide Rush was actually intended to get the city to abandon criminal charges it filed against the company over an illegal supergraphic sign installed last year on an office building next to the 10 freeway.
“The Court suspects, that at base, WWR is essentially seeking again to enjoin the criminal action by way of severe monetary sanctions that would compel the city to abandon the criminal proceeding,” Judge Collins wrote in her ruling. The company was seeking a penalty of $100,000 plus $10,000 a day until the city “purges itself of the contempt.”
In August, 2008, the judge permanently enjoined the city from denying permits to the company for signs at 21 locations based on prohibitions in the city sign code against off-site and supergraphic signs. In May, 2009, she held the city in contempt for violating that injunction, but in today’s ruling pointed out that the city’s prosecution of criminal charges, as well as a civil lawsuit filed in February of this year against World Wide Rush and 26 related entities and individuals, are alleging violations of a moratorium adopted in December, 2008, and a new off-site sign and supergraphics ban that went into effect in August, 2009.
Judge Collins ruled last fall that the latest ban does not have the constitutional defects that led her to issue injunctions at nearly 50 locations to World Wide Rush and several other supergraphic companies. In denying the contempt motion today, she also said that the civil suit filed in February does not run afoul of her 2008 ruling because it concerns signs allegedly put up after the moratorium and the permanent ban.
After excoriating the city last year for its behavior in sign enforcement, Judge Collins had some praise in today’s ruling. She said, “The Court believes the City is treading carefully in pursuing the state civil action without running afoul of this Court’s orders and will continue to do so.”