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Judge denies request for city to pay legal fees

Decision for Laguna arises from case involving three men who wanted to use bullhorn to make anti-abortion messages around town.

November 29, 2013|By Bryce Alderton

Laguna Beach does not have to pay $1.9 million to attorneys for three men who sought to project anti-abortion messages around the city, a federal court has ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney denied a motion from Steve Klein, Howard Putnam and Glen Biondi that claimed the city owed them attorney fees, according to a Nov. 19 opinion issued in Santa Ana.

The three men filed a complaint and applied for a temporary restraining order in December 2008 after the city denied their request for a permit to use amplified sound outside of Laguna Beach High School.

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Klein wanted to use a bullhorn on sidewalks near the Park Avenue school to communicate religious and anti-abortion messages to students after the final bell, according to Carney's opinion.

After the court denied Klein's application for a temporary restraining order, he filed a complaint alleging the city's sound ordinance prohibited him from communicating his message in three locations at specific times — the sidewalks adjacent to the school and City Hall and the downtown commercial district.

The city amended its amplified-sound ordinance in June 2009 and October 2010, the opinion said. The latter amendment lessened restrictions on certain sounds, provided that they don't cause a disturbance.

The city's current ordinance permits music and human speech.

However, "Sound shall not be emitted near hospitals, churches, schools, courthouses and City Hall in a manner that unreasonably disrupts, obstructs, impairs or interferes with the normal use and operation of such facilities for their intended purposes," according to the ordinance.

Klein then sought nominal damages because the ordinance prior to 2010 deprived him of his right to free speech, the opinion said.

The city's noise ordinance before 2010 banned the use of amplified sound equipment within 100 yards of schools, hospitals, churches, courthouses and City Hall when the facilities are in use, and for 30 minutes before and after use.

The district court granted Klein's motion in part, and the city's cross motion in another part, ruling that the city's repealed ordinance (before 2010) would apply if Klein used amplified speech in front of the high school and City Hall, but not in the downtown business district, according to Carney's opinion.

The court dismissed Klein's remaining claims for relief under the California and federal constitutions as moot because the city had repealed the contested ordinance provisions, the opinion said.

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