Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City appeals ruling on sidewalk ordinance

March 31, 2012


A city prosecutor argued Friday in district court that the city’s sidewalk ordinance, which was ruled unconstitutionally vague earlier this year, was written clearly.

“The city believes with the plain language of the ordinance and the definition ‘to obstruct traffic,’ there is nothing left for a person to wonder what conduct it is prohibiting,” city prosecutor Elizabeth Hafoka said in court.

The city is appealing Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath’s February decision on a 2005 ordinance that makes 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.

It was drafted in 2005 along with an aggressive panhandling ordinance. The judge 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.

McGrath’s ruling came after 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. Gilmore, who goes by the nickname “Simon,” can often be seen downtown wearing a robe or bed sheet, and his mother has told the Journal-World he received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia as a child.

Shelley Hickman Clark, an associate clinical specialist with Douglas County Legal Aid who defended Gilmore in the case, argued the ordinance about blocking a sidewalk had been “shoehorned” into “what would be a legitimate regulation” against placing moving vans or large items in the way to prohibit someone’s path.

“People in this city have a constitutional right of association of liberty, and this ordinance unduly impinges upon that right,” she said.

Hafoka said “blocking the passage of others is not a constitutionally protected right.”

“This ordinance is not criminalizing conduct of being on a public right of way,” she said. “But it’s rather criminalizing blocking or obstructing traffic on the public right of way.”

District Judge Paula Martin stopped the arguments once to ask a question about whether Lawrence police officers receive training on how to enforce the ordinance. Hafoka said officers are trained on every city ordinance.

The judge said she would take the arguments under advisement and rule on the case later.

McGrath’s ruling has upheld portions of the ordinance that prohibit people from leaving objects in a street or sidewalk and from intentionally obstructing traffic.


pace 6 years, 1 month ago

Well, I would certainly expect them to enforce it Saturday night, I am sure it wasn't aimed especially at protesters but just everyone who blocks the sidewalk.

deec 6 years, 1 month ago

So I guess if KU wins the police will be writing 40,000-80,000 tickets this weekend? Ka-ching. Oh, wait. Only some people are violating the ordinances by being in the public right of way.

pace 6 years, 1 month ago

No, the Lawrence police are not trained on every ordinance. That is false.

Gotalife 6 years, 1 month ago

The crowds of thousands in downtown Lawrence are approved to be there, and are mostly celebrating. The panhandlers and protesters are not approved and in many cases are unwanted. If their presence was so desirable you would see thousands there to support them as well.

deec 6 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for making my point. Only acceptable, socially approved people have rights and are allowed to violate laws and ordinances. What if KU had lost and the crowd got a little ugly? Would you still approve of the city not enforcing their own laws? Would it be okay for police to beat the fans and spray them directly in the face with pepper spray if the police thought they might maybe become unruly? I have no problem at all with the celebrants. I did it myself in '88, and would again this year if I lived nearby. The point is, either we all have rights,or none of us do, and it is only a matter of time until the people figure out it is the latter.

frankwiles 6 years, 1 month ago

Seriously? They're picking on Simon? About the least harmful person who lives on Mass? Way to waste thousands of tax dollars for what could be accomplished with a "Hey buddy, can you move over that way a bit? Cool, thanks!"

Gotalife 6 years, 1 month ago

Deec, guess you missed it when I said if it is "approved" it is not an illegal act, permission is given to be in the space. Your philosophical attempts at reason are ridiculous.

deec 5 years, 11 months ago

And your feeble attempt to counter my argument by calling them "ridiculous" are more so. Either rights apply to everyone, or no one has rights. It's a simple concept. Limiting rights to only those we approve of means there are no rights at all.

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