Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jul 2003
Source: Wisconsin State Journal (WI)
Copyright: 2003 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Ed Treleven


4th District Court Of Appeals Decides Sauk County's Open Air Assembly Law 
Violates The First Amendment.

A state appeals court Thursday struck down Sauk County's open air assembly 
ordinance because it violates free speech by allowing the county an 
unreasonably long time to process permit applications.

The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals found the ordinance 
violated the First Amendment rights of the organizers of Weedstock, a 
pro-marijuana festival that was held in Sauk County in 1995, 1998 and 1999. 
In 2000, the event was broken up by police after its organizer, Ben Masel 
of Madison, failed to get a permit for Weedstock under the ordinance.

The ordinance was adapted in 1999 from an existing county ordinance in 
response to local concerns about Weedstock. In 2000, after learning Masel 
would hold Weedstock without a permit, Sauk County obtained a court order 
blocking Weedstock, and Masel filed a counterclaim alleging that the 
ordinance was unconstitutional.

Under the ruling, said Masel's attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, Masel is 
entitled to damages and attorney fees from Sauk County. It also frees him 
from forfeitures being sought by the county and could end criminal charges 
against Masel that resulted from the 2000 Weedstock.

"It's certainly gratifying to think we have a chance to get compensation 
for people who were treated in what they perceived to be a high-handed way 
by the county government," Olson said.

While the court upheld several facets of the ordinance, it struck down the 
ordinance as a whole because of a provision that gives Sauk County 45 days 
to process an application.

The court said leaving the balance of the ordinance intact after striking 
down the 45-day processing time would leave the county with "unfettered 
discretion" in deciding when to make a decision on an application.

Presiding Judge Margaret Vergeront, writing for the court, said that 
without a specified time limit to grant or deny a license, the ordinance 
does not prevent officials from encouraging some views and discouraging 
others, "in this case, by acting speedily on some applications and 
indefinitely postponing action (on) others."

The court also struck down provisions that require groups to file their 
applications 60 days in advance of an event; prohibit groups from 
advertising, promoting and selling tickets before a license is issued; 
require the county zoning administrator's certification; and require a 
license fee in excess of $100 per application.

Olson said the decision still leaves counties free to enact assembly permit 
ordinances that include the same subjective criteria as Sauk County's 

Wendy Bromley, acting corporation counsel for Sauk County, said various 
county committees will review the decision and decide whether to appeal it 
to the state Supreme Court.
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