City Hall

City Hall

Lawrence city sidewalk ordinance ruled unconstitutional

February 9, 2012


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.


irvan moore 6 years, 4 months ago

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

gccs14r 6 years, 4 months ago

And I would rather see expanded outdoor areas and a removal of vehicle traffic so that there is plenty of space to walk without being compelled to hug the storefronts.

Jonathan Fox 6 years, 4 months ago

Wow! That's awesome. That's a great idea.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

Except that downtown Lawrence would most likely look far more like downtown pedestrian mall KCK than Boulder.

After all, Lawrence isn't a tourist destination like Boulder, so I think we have to leave this kind of look to The Legends.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

Bars and restaurants pay an addition fee to the city for the privilege of having the outdoor dining area. Then, presumably, with that outdoor dining comes additional business which again produces additional tax revenue. I'm not sure why you would say the taxpayers are subsidizing those areas.

Ockhams_Razor 6 years, 4 months ago

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

conscience101 6 years, 4 months ago

Good one Larrynative. What kind of an heartless imbecile say what Dolph says!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

the original jesus, but not Sam's muscular jesus, would not be happy with this. Show some compassion.

parrothead8 6 years, 4 months ago

Your compassion for someone less fortunate than you is heartwarming. Hopefully someone cares equally as much for you.

thebigspoon 6 years, 4 months ago

I do, equally as much. This show of compassion and understanding of mental illness is heartwarming. NOT.

funkdog1 6 years, 4 months ago

I have seen Simon hundreds of times over the years in various places around town and I have never, ever, EVER seen his so-called "twig and berries". What a ridiculous thing to say.

Pete_Schweti 6 years, 4 months ago

Then you've never worked at the downtown Community Building and been charged with evicting him from the Men's locker room...

EarthaKitt 6 years, 4 months ago

Maybe you've been chosen for that task because of your monniker.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

Uh...frankly, I would expect to see lots of men with their "twig and berries" showing in a men's locker room!!! I don't think this counts.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

Unfortunately I have seen Robert stark naked out in public. About a year and a half ago, he was taking a dump in the grass by the street in front of LCS. Then he headed down 10th street towards Mass. carrying his sheet bundled up on his shoulder.

When I saw some guys from D&D heading over and shouting at him to put something on, I called 911. What concerned me was that a couple of them had tire irons. The dispatcher at first thought I was simply reporting "some guy walking around in a sheet", but quickly dispatched a car when I explained that I wished he were in his sheet :-)

(As an aside, this happened on my birthday! Heck of a birthday present...not :-)

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

Except that Ronald Reagan eliminated funding for most of the "farms" so that people like Robert would be taken care of by the community. He was just "trickling down" economic responsibility.

Frank A Janzen 6 years, 4 months ago

Yes, That's my Dillons. I have had many coherent conversations with Simon while he was lying on the sidwalk on the corner by Liberty Hall. In fact, Liberty Hall knows Simon to the extent that they give me a "coke without ice", as Simon requests, to give to him.

If you people would simply not be so afraid of Simon, you could talk to him, too. He's quite interesting.

Deb Engstrom 6 years, 4 months ago

I agree. He does have mental illness, but is very intelligent and tells some great sci-fi stories. I now wish I had taken the time to transcribe some of them.

jehovah_bob 6 years, 4 months ago

I remember him walking around campus reciting "The Raven" from memory when I was in school.

1southernjayhawk 6 years, 4 months ago

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

Oldsoul 6 years, 4 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.

Tony Kisner 6 years, 4 months ago

Hey, don't I know you? Aren't you the well traveled intellectual who goes to my church? It appears you have concerns about others inquiring if you need assistance, is this something I could help you with? Are you lost? There are not a lot of mountains around here, but sometimes when people visit from Colorado they are likely to live in the mountains so it is not impossible to run into a mountain person. How can you tell if the mountain person is less educated than the person they are terrorizing? Terrorizing that is funny, i guess you use exaggeration as a humor tool. OK, got to go, good to see you are still getting out and meeting new folks.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 4 months ago

Do you know goodie? I bet you two would get along like two peas in a pot.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 4 months ago

Actually, that's a quote from a Laurel and Hardy movie. Too bad you were too dim to get the reference.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 4 months ago

I mourn for the lack of cultural literacy in the yootes of America.

asixbury 6 years, 4 months ago

People in Kansas, and in most of the Midwest, were brought up to be more caring than that. If we see someone in need, why is it a bad thing to offer assistance? I have been helped in the past, and very much appreciated the "mountain people" who gave me their service when it was needed. Sounds like you need to travel more. There are no mountains in Kansas, so how can we have "mountain people?" We do have rednecks, in abundance, but I would sooner trust a "redneck" then any city-folk.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

One of the things I found I really liked about Lawrence when I moved here from one of those big liberal East Coast cities was the way that total strangers would say hi and would look you in the eye and would strike up a conversation with a total stranger. It was so entirely different from where I come from.

I found I also liked how, say, if I were standing there looking lost, someone would stop and ask "Need some help?" In NYC, for example, that would probably scare the bejeesus out of you...because "normal" people wouldn't ask such a question. But this isn't NYC, so don't expect everyone else to change simply because you've chosen the wrong city for your attitude.

lunacydetector 6 years, 4 months ago

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

Sally Piller 6 years, 4 months ago

Nice! What has this to do with the article? Did Simon write this?

classclown 6 years, 4 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.

conscience101 6 years, 4 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.

TopJayhawk 6 years, 4 months ago

It's been a myth for the better part of a decade. Can't help Simon if he doesn't want it.
In the old days, he would have been kept in a State Hospital. Not anymore.
This was not changed due to budget cuts or constraints. It was done to protect the liberty and dignity of all. No matter if sometimes it kills someone, and sometimes it does.
Very unfortunate.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 4 months ago

Thanks President Jimmy Carter for one more gift which keeps on giving.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

Actually, wasn't it Reagan who closed all of those mental hospitals?

gatekeeper 6 years, 4 months ago

You are correct!!!!! People don't know their history!

Sherry Warren 6 years, 4 months ago

That was actually JFK who set deinstitutionalization in motion in 1963 which led to the creation of community mental health centers.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

Nah. Community treatment for mental illness isn't a myth. Rather, it's simply not the entire solution.

Community treatment works really well for most people with serious mental health problems. It's certainly tons better than the old way of locking people up and throwing away the key. It just doesn't work for everyone. Nor does it necessarily work all the time for those folks whom it does help.

There are times when hospitalization is necessary...even if it's involuntary. And once someone has gotten stabilized, they usually start wanting to work on their recovery again because, in fact, it was the symptoms that were denying the person their "liberty and dignity". The symptoms that were controlling their decision-making.

Does that mean Robert wants help? Nah. But that doesn't mean that community treatment is a myth, either.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 4 months ago

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

Flap Doodle 6 years, 4 months ago

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

audvisartist 6 years, 4 months ago

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

marymo70 6 years, 4 months ago

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

jonas_opines 6 years, 4 months ago

I know. You might have To Step Off The Curb!

We are all truly oppressed.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 4 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.

Matt Kuhlman 6 years, 4 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.

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 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.

50YearResident 6 years, 4 months ago

We advertise for them. We have the luxuary bum hotel, soon to turn into a 5 star. What bum wouldn't want to come to Lawrence?

idarastar 6 years, 4 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.

lawslady 6 years, 4 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.

Ken Lewis 6 years, 4 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.

asixbury 6 years, 4 months ago

Because the Constitution and the laws governing our country were made to protect the minorities' rights. How is Simon hurting you in any way? Let him be.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps because the Constitution was specifically drafted to protect the rights of minorities? If the masses could vote away 'rights' for others, there wouldn't be many left. Past examples, just to cite a couple, women voting and blacks being people.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

The majority of what? Voters? Whites? Christians? The "silent majority" about whom anyone can make up anything they want?

I ask because women make up a majority of the population...and the courts most certainly have ruled in favor of women's rights.

So, please...tell us what majority you'e referring to?

nativeson 6 years, 4 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.

Adrienne Sanders 6 years, 4 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.

50YearResident 6 years, 4 months ago

You are an idiot! There is a difference between normal flow of sidewalk shoppers and "Loiters" intentionally blocking the sidewalk. There is a law aginst loitering on a public sidewalk, therefore Simon is breaking the law.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 4 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?

Adrienne Sanders 6 years, 4 months ago

They do, repeatedly, when he does something illegal or particularly dangerous. And then they let him go again b/c you can't just keep a person locked up indefinitely for being mentally ill.

acg 6 years, 4 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?

matahari 6 years, 4 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.

unite2revolt 6 years, 4 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.

marymo70 6 years, 4 months ago

It's a sideWALK not a sidelay. Sheesh

Hudson Luce 6 years, 4 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...

marymo70 6 years, 4 months ago

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

matahari 6 years, 4 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.

marymo70 6 years, 4 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.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.