Settlement of artists lawsuit in the offing

After Judge Howard’s ruling in federal court in May 2009, the City of St Augustine was ordered to restore the First Amendment rights of “painters, photographers, sculptors and printers” to create and sell their art in public.

Eight years later, and the artists say they are still not free to express themselves without risking a $500 fine or a 60-day jail sentence. They returned to court and have been in mediation with the City since late last year. Although subject to approval by the City Commission, sources tell Historic City News a settlement between the parties has been negotiated.

The City has been on the losing-end of its vendetta to deprive artists of their Constitutional right of free expression in public places; but, after a cursory reading of the mediated settlement, it appears that things may remain more the same — than changed.

The plaintiff artists, Bruce Kevin Bates, Elena Hecht, Kate Merrick, and Helena Sala, say they have accumulated more than $100,000 in legal costs. The settlement calls for the City’s insurance company to pay the artist’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs as the sole monetary consideration for the agreement.

At issue appears to be the status of various ordinances previously enacted by the city commission and there impact on where artists can express themselves without fear of being fined or arrested.

  • The artists’ greatest advances may come through amendment to Ordinance 22-6 (Market in the Plaza) after a definition of the term “Street Artist” is set forth in an amended Ordinance 22-10. Mobile Vending Ordinances, 17-502 through 17-511, will also be amended.
  • Peddlers Ordinances 17-186 and 17-230 will be repealed, as will be the West Plaza Ordinance 22-14.
  • Ordinance 22-17 (Hypolita Street) and Ordinance 22-18 (Hypolita, Cuna, Treasury, & Fort Ally) will remain unchanged.

Repeal of an ordinance is easy, amendment can be tricky, but the greatest opportunity for continued controversy comes when the city commission adopts new, untested ordinances.

That said, the agreement calls for the city to adopt a Proposed New Ordinance 22-19 creating a monthly lottery for a limited number of assigned spaces adjacent to the Historic District Parking Facility east wall, and the Market in the East Plaza. Successful lottery winners will be required to pay a $25 administrative fee within 5-days or risk losing their space to the next artist in lottery order.

Historic City News will continue to follow news of this case in the public interest as the city commission takes up the business of ratifying the settlement.

The artists are represented by Bryan E. DeMaggio, Esq. of the Sheppard, White, Kachergus law firm in Jacksonville. Edward L. Birk, Esq. of Marks Gray, PA in Jacksonville is representing the City of St Augustine. The mediator for the agreement is Terrance E. Schmidt.


Share your thoughts with our readers >>