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City Hall

Lawrence city sidewalk ordinance ruled unconstitutional

February 9, 2012

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Robert Gilmore, also known as Simon, walks along 10th Street in this file photo.

Robert Gilmore, also known as Simon, walks along 10th Street in this file photo.

A Lawrence Municipal Court judge has declared part of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to obstruct traffic on a sidewalk vague and unconstitutional.

Judge Randy McGrath made the ruling Wednesday in a trial of Robert Gilmore, 54, who faced three misdemeanor counts of prohibited use of a right of way for incidents last year on Massachusetts Street.

Prosecutors accused Gilmore, who sometimes goes by “Simon” and is often seen downtown wearing a robe or bed sheet, of blocking the sidewalk under the ordinance. Elizabeth Hafoka, a city prosecutor who handled the Jan. 27 trial, said the alleged incidents occurred June 14, Sept. 30 and Oct. 26.

The city commission on a 3-2 vote in 2005 approved the ordinance making it illegal to walk, stand, lie or sit on a sidewalk to block the lawful passage by another person or require the person to take evasive action to avoid physical contact. The ordinance was drafted in 2005 along with an “aggressive panhandling” ordinance.

Attorneys said McGrath found one subsection of the ordinance that makes it illegal to “continue to obstruct traffic” and the definition about people having to walk around someone was vague and violated the First Amendment. The leaving of objects in a right of way and intentionally obstructing traffic were said to be OK.

Gilmore’s defense attorney, Shelley Hickman Clark, said the ruling was important because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the First Amendment gave people a right to be on a public street or “walking at whim.”

She said McGrath gave examples that it can be difficult to walk through an area if people are standing on the sidewalk downtown waiting to get a table for a crowded restaurant.

“It’s difficult to walk through that crowd, but it’s not criminal activity,” said Hickman Clark, an associate clinical specialist with Douglas County Legal Aid. “I think it’s very important for people who want to be downtown just to be part of the community.”

Gilmore was released from custody Wednesday after McGrath made his ruling. According to past Journal-World stories, Gilmore’s mother said he received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in childhood.

Social services agencies have been unsuccessful in attempting to help him.

Hafoka said the city has until Feb. 22 to decide whether to appeal the decision to Douglas County District Court.

McGrath, who retired as municipal court judge last year, heard the case because Judge Scott Miller recused himself. Miller was a city staff attorney starting in 2005 who crafted much of the city’s newer criminal ordinances and codes.

Comments

marymo70 2 years, 2 months ago

Just saying a lot of the people here feel terrible for this man but obviously not enough to help him. I don't see anyone saying they took him warm clothing, something to eat, or gave him a place to get out the cold. Talkin the talk.

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matahari 2 years, 2 months ago

-1,000 Rude and insensitive beyond belief! Have you no compassion? Not one iota of empathy? The level of insensitivity continues to astound me.

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marymo70 2 years, 2 months ago

That shouldn't be a problem since he has so many admirers on this board.

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Hudson Luce 2 years, 2 months ago

OK, now he's out of jail. The ruling was a good call, but where does Simon go now? Tonight it's supposed to be 7 degrees out, tomorrow a high of 22 degrees, and Sunday night it's supposed to snow. He's either going to need a place to stay indoors or something to keep him warm else he'll freeze to death...

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oletimer 2 years, 2 months ago

You know, the folks that put together the Constitution could have saved themselves a lot of work if they would have stopped with the first amendment. That section rules life! Any questions or problems? First amendment. The rest is not needed it would appear. What a crock!!

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marymo70 2 years, 2 months ago

It's a sideWALK not a sidelay. Sheesh

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prospector 2 years, 2 months ago

"Likely he is treated more humanely in Douglas County Jail then when he is on our streets by Lawrencians."

Naked in a padded room is not humane.

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unite2revolt 2 years, 2 months ago

Funny how human rights violations were keeping Simon off the streets, fed and sheltered. Likely he is treated more humanely in Douglas County Jail then when he is on our streets by Lawrencians.

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 2 months ago

It is easier to walk around Gilmore. The outdoor dining areas are dirty and nasty and not a good front door to any restaurant downtown.

Good for McGrath, but sadly now the City Attorney and Commisson can waste more time on re writing the ordinance. So this will go on for months and months. Status quo, business as usual at City Hall. Hopefully the new City Attorney will decide that it is better to leave well enough alone, stand by McGrath's ruling and move to more important issues.

AFter all, the city already decided that in the area around the campus it is perfectly legal for tenants to block the city sidewalks with beer pong tables. What gives on that? Is it Robert or is it Beer Pong?

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matahari 2 years, 2 months ago

I have a friend who let Simon stay in her home for a few days. I don't know the details, but I love this girl and bless her heart for doing (so)

I've caught his wit on more than one occasion, and it made my day.

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acg 2 years, 2 months ago

Well, because he's a grown man and he hasn't really committed any jail-worthy crimes. They've closed down all of the mental health institutions in this area because of budgetary reasons. The money grubbing scumbag politicians ( on both sides) are always padding their own fat PAC accounts, creating tax loopholes for each other, misspending our money and cutting the funds for necessary social programs---like---ding ding ding!! HELP FOR THE BROKE AND MENTALLY CHALLENGED! Now folks like Simon (who's an absolute sweetheart, btw) fall thru the cracks. Then good folks like culturechange and lunacydetector don't want to have to walk around them on the sidewalk while they're on their way to Starbucks because it bothers their fragile senses. God forbid we have to sully our delicate sensibilities while be-bopping off to blow more money on crap with all of that reality staring us right there in the face. Right?

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Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

The SRS has the authority to take children from their parents for their safety... why don't the pick Simon up for the very same reasons?

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Adrienne Sanders 2 years, 2 months ago

Seems like McGrath made a good decision on this one. I mean, if you're not allowed to block sidewalks, then people with babies in strollers would have to be banned. And windowshoppers. And anyone else who might obstruct the flow of traffic walking down the sidewalk. Seriously, if it bothers you that much to have to walk around another human being, you maybe better just stay home.

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nativeson 2 years, 2 months ago

The first amendment intepretation is a real stretch. It is unfortunate that a judge would not see the balance of rights issue at stake in this case. What about the property rights of store owners? In this case they are sacrificed at the alter of "free speech."

Mr. Gilmore may be a great guy, but we all live within the bounds of municipal law. That is where the City looks for the balance that makes the most sense for all consituents. This ruling prosecutes the rights of a few at the expense of the rights of the many.

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Ken Lewis 2 years, 2 months ago

Why do these judges only pull out the Constitution to stand up for bums, sexual predators, and big corporations? They never strap on a pair to rule in favor of the majory's rights.

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lawslady 2 years, 2 months ago

"Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws — always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: Please pass this so that I won't be able to do something I know I should stop. Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them for their own good." Robert Heinline.

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idarastar 2 years, 2 months ago

Downtown is our "town square". Community socializing happens on mass st. I am glad that this ordinance has been deemed unconstitutional. There are a lot of interesting people around (if you take the time to stop and say hi). Simon is an awesome person. I am glad my friend is out and able to share his stories again. Do not judge by what you have heard or read, go experience first hand.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 2 months ago

I feel sorry for the guy but how did a sleep Midwestern town end up with so many homeless and panhandlers? I see fewer in downtown KC.

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kuhlman 2 years, 2 months ago

I think it's clear that a municipal court has authority over municipal laws, and can cite a constitutional law, which applies to the entire country, in the reasoning of their decision. Now if they were OVERTURNING a constitutional law, that would be a different story.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 2 months ago

I am a little surprised that a Municipal Court judge has this much authority.

I would be interested in how this is viewed by his peers in the legal profession.

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marymo70 2 years, 2 months ago

Once again, it's one person's freedom over everyone elses. Where in the hell did common sense go?

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audvisartist 2 years, 2 months ago

Simon's pretty awesome. Had a nice, long conversation with him once about how he wants Brownback to be abducted by aliens.

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Number_1_Grandma 2 years, 2 months ago

"McGrath, who retired as municipal court judge last year, heard the case"

Here lies the problem. McGrath has to be the worst municipal Judge Lawrence has ever seen!

Can't we get rid of McGrath once and for all.....Jeez

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 2 months ago

Soon as the weather warms up, the public defecation season will be here.

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Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

Does this apply to the honk for hemp guy too? He blocks the whole corner.

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conscience101 2 years, 2 months ago

Not many people around here seem to be commenting on the fact that Simon is a nearly blind, homeless man with a first rate intelligence, whose unfortunate circumstances has left him in the streets. It is quite disturbing to see some vile comments about an unfortunate being. We should be ashamed of ourselves to talk ill about people caught in unfortunate circumstances. We should instead be lamenting on the fact that in this day and age we have homelessness and poverty, instead of talking gutter nonsense about this or that. Obviously this judge realizes the importance of first amendment. Good to know there is still freedom left around here.

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classclown 2 years, 2 months ago

Will this send the "aggressive panhandling" ordinance back to the drawing board? Other than the 'no touch' and 'making threatening statements' parts of it, it seems the rest of it violates the First Amendment.

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tange 2 years, 2 months ago

So, anyway, the siren alerted me to how long I'd been stuck in time. Had me reminiscing about Eloi as I dodged Morlocks on the street. I found my reflection in a time capsule and took it for a spin.

When the miniature disappeared, slipping into the future (or so that was the rumor), it dawned on me that they'd gotten it all wrong. The vantage point from the maxiature had heavenly bodies streaking and flowers popping like fireworks. But, even as the time traveler gazed upon this spectacle, the plants were staring right back at him, slowing until he would become seemingly frozen in time, unadrift like some mannequin glued to his airsleigh.

(I remember the first time I became unstuck in time. The sound barrier had just been broken, and time seemed to stand still. But time never really stands still. Sometimes it flows like molasses, with its own constraining deliberation, defying even attempts to thwart a tricycle ride into the path of a runaway truck. Funny how some things get tied to one inertial framework, while others escape. One must suspend belief… or suspend disbelief… I can never remember which. Belief, disbelief, each seeming but a redressing of the other, and I'm sure both come with suspenders.)

There needed to be a sphere—some sort of event horizon separating the time traveler from the time traveled. And, who can say, maybe one does disappear within a sphere in which even that constant which is the speed of light must bend toward a temporal asymptote. Light bathes us in its strangeness, and, even if we could keep up, still the scenic route would elude us…

http://tinyurl.com/cxoycy

To make a long story short, it appears that they got it right—or righter—in the remaking, a more perfect reunion, as it were. And, as off-putting as an erudite, cannibalistic cave dweller who wears his spine like a stegosaur can be, I still haven't lost my faith in time travel. Why, just the other day, I popped a time capsule, and the light in the room changed. I'm pretty sure I saw something growing. For the uninitiated, Rumer has it.

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lunacydetector 2 years, 2 months ago

what if he's standing there with a doodoo in his britches blocking the sidewalk ...still legal?

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Oldsoul 2 years, 2 months ago

Please make it illegal for the local mountain people to approach and terrorize strangers way better educated, more civilized, and well-traveled than they. If you have never been out of Kansas, please realize that many people from elsewhere are with good reason taught to beware of strangers. It's also widely viewed as an insult to be treated as someone who wants or needs help. Likely most would prefer to remain independent than to pretend they are grateful to a forward, unwelcome stranger raised up to be a yahoo and scare thinking people on the streets. If you show bad judgment in the way you try to engage unknown people, obviously you are unworthy of trust. If the first amendment allows open access to public space, street harassment should not be allowed to curtail this.

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1southernjayhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Next up as unconstitutional: requiring property owners to remove snow from sidewalks in city easements.

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Steven Gaudreau 2 years, 2 months ago

The restaurants pay a fee to use the space.

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Dolph4 2 years, 2 months ago

I guess when this waste of space lays on the sidewalk, letting his twig and berries dance in the breeze for kids and all to see, that is not a problem. This dudes days will end when he gets hit by a driver who fails to see an insane, drag on society shuffling down the street in his bed sheet. He costs this city a ton of money every year by spending his winter sitting in jail. Time to drop him off at the farm.

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Ockhams_Razor 2 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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irvan moore 2 years, 2 months ago

i'd rather walk around simon than walk around the "outdoor dining areas" that taxpayers subsidize for downtown restaurants and bars

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