Michael McNeilly, the self-proclaimed Beverly Hills artist who first gained noteriety by painting a large patriotic mural on the side of a Westwood office building and then converting it to a commercial advertisement was hit yesterday with a lawsuit seeking millions in damages for that sign and other supergraphic signs put up without permits on buildings in a wide area of Los Angeles. The lawsuit filed by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich also names 21 property owners who allegedly allowed McNeilly to put up illegal signs, including a prominent developer who has received city loans and subsidies.
McNeilly, who heads a company called Skytag, is accused in the lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court of maintaining public nuisances, violating fire safety orders issued by the city, and creating potential traffic hazards with the multi-story signs. In addition, the lawsuit accuses McNeilly of perjuring himself in sworn statements made in a separate lawsuit he filed three years ago in federal court to block the city from enforcing its supergraphic sign ban against Skytag signs.
Those statements claimed that Skytag maintained supergraphic signs at 118 locations throughout the city, when in fact most of the buildings had no signs at all, or small, poster-sized images of the statue of liberty, according to the lawsuit filed yesterday. At the time, McNeilly had put up some large-scale signs bearing the statue of liberty image, which he publicly proclaimed to be constitutionally-protected works of artistic expression. Several sites with those signs later displayed supergraphic signs with commercial ads for movies, TV shows, automobiles, and other products and services.
One of the property owners named in the lawsuit that seeks damages of $2,500 for each day illegal signs were up at 17 separate locations is CIM Group, which has been responsible for high profile projects in Hollywood, including the Hollywood and Highland complex and the Sunset and Vine Tower. The politically-connected company is currently developing the Midtown Crossing Shopping Center between Pico and Venice Blvds. just east of LaBrea Ave, and has received millions in city subsidies for that project, as well as several in the Hollywood area.
The lawsuit claims that CIM Group ignored orders from both the city’s Department of Building and Safety and Fire Department to remove six-story supergraphic signs placed by Skytag on an office building at 1800 N. Highland Ave. in Hollywood.
McNeilly’s federal court lawsuit was one of more than 20 “copycat” lawsuits filed after a federal court judge ruled in August, 2008, that L.A’s ban on off-site and supergraphic signs was unconstitutional. However, that decision was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that L.A. could legally ban the signs, and McNeilly’s lawsuit and almost all the others have been dismissed.
It is estimated that hundreds of unpermitted supergraphic signs were put up throughout L.A. since the middle of the past decade. In the wake of the appeals court ruling, and vigorous enforcement by Trutanich, who has filed lawsuits against several other sign companies, most of those signs have disappeared.
Several of those lawsuits have been settled out-of-court, bringing the city more than $6 million in damages. One of those cases involved CBS Outdoor, one of the city’s largest outdoor advertising firms, and illegal supergraphic signs it maintained on buildings in Hollywood, mid-Wilshire, and downtown.