Trump flag can fly: Judge tosses ticket for Long Branch man’s pro-Donald display
A ticket issued to a West Long Branch man for flying a Donald Trump flag in his front yard was dismissed by a judge on Wednesday.
Joseph Hornick was ticketed in March for violating a borough ordinance that prohibited the display of campaign signs more than 30 days before an election. Municipal officials say they consider the flag a campaign sign. New Jersey's primary is June 7.
The town considered the flags supporting the Republican presidential candidate the same as political lawn signs, acting borough administrator Lori Cole had previously told New Jersey 101.5.
Hornick's lawyer, Eric Sherman, argued the ordinance was vague regarding flags. Judge Louis Garippo Jr. agreed, calling the law "somewhat vague." He said he was dismissing the case "in the interest of justice."
After Hornick's case received media attention, the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joined the dispute, saying people have the right to express their political beliefs every day — no matter how long it is until and election.
"We are pleased the town is able to recognize the problems with the ordinance. Municipalities do not have the authority to limit when political can be up. They can be up all year long. The First Amendment protects that right especially in a presidential year since people want to weigh in on the political process ," ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero.said. If they allow some signs they can't limit campaign signs to being displayed for only a certain period of time as West Long Branch's ordnance ruled.
She said the ACLU stands ready to assist any homeowner who believes their rights to display a campaign sign are violated. LoCicero said that protection includes both political candidates and issues.
Hornick had faced a minimum fine of $100. The maximum penalty is a fine of $2,000, 90 days in jail or both.
"Let the flags fly. Let 'em fly," Hornick told New Jersey Advance Media afterward. "You take my freedom away, I'd rather sit in jail, bottom line."
LoCicero said the borough attorney has also recommended that the council repeal its ordinance and that it will no longer be enforced.
Sherman said the borough council is now in the process of drawing up a new ordinance that addresses the issue of the clutter of political signs without infringing on rights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.