City loses legal battle over mural

August 4th, 2009 by

CLEARWATER – A Clearwater business owner who filed a federal lawsuit against the city has scored a victory.

Herb Quintero, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued on the basis of the First Amendment. A fish mural painted on the side of his bait and tackle shop, “The Complete Angler” was at the center of the controversy.

The city said the mural was an advertisement and violated city code. Clearwater ordered Quintero to remove the mural and assessed fines. After a long legal battle, Clearwater is backing down.

Monday, City Council approved a $55,000 settlement that allows Quintero to keep the mural and even add to it. The settlement pays Quintero’s fines and legal fees. He says the victory is bittersweet.

“We won the battle, but we definitely didn’t win the war,” Quintero said. “It’s a shallow victory for us.”

Quintero says he hasn’t completely won because the city’s ordinance remains the same. He says the settlement is about money, not the issue.

“It’s a public relations nightmare for them right now. If they continue, they’re going to lose more taxpayer dollars on this,” he said. “I think they’ll continue to enforce it the way they’ve been enforcing it. It’s unfortunate that we can’t change the code.”

The ACLU of Florida told FOX 13 they fully expected a settlement.

“The settlement signifies an understanding they couldn’t prevent [the mural] … It’s an acknowledgment they would lose … They recognize he had the right.”

The ACLU believes the City of Clearwater will change its sign ordinance. In 2006, the city lost a similar case against a restaurant.

The city didn’t return messages left Monday afternoon to comment for this story.

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