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.