Norfolk Virginia Free Speech
Central Radio Company v. City of Norfolk
Signs of Abuse in Norfolk, Virginia
|.||IJ client Bob Wilson|
|IJ clients Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson are being blocked by the city of Norfolk, Va., from displaying a banner protesting eminent domain abuse.|
In a double blow to free speech and property rights, the city of Norfolk, Va., tried to not only take a thriving business using its power of eminent domain, but also censor a powerful and highly visible sign protesting the unlawful condemnation.
The city’s land developer—the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA)—condemned more than 170 residential, institutional and business buildings in the Hampton Boulevard in order to hand the properties over to Old Dominion University. One of those properties was Central Radio, which has been building and repairing ship-based radio equipment in Norfolk since 1934. After losing an initial fight in Virginia trial court to keep Central Radio’s property, one of the company’s owners, Bob Wilson, and its vice president, Kelly Dickinson, decided to take their battle to the court of public opinion: they hung a 375-square-foot banner on the side of the Central Radio building protesting the attempt to take the property.
Showing as little regard for free speech rights as it had for property rights, the city—at the urging of the Old Dominion Real Estate Foundation, the very entity that stood to receive Central Radio’s property—immediately cited Central Radio for violating the city’s sign code. The code limits Central Radio to a sign of 60 square feet, which would be illegible blocks away on busy Hampton Road, where Central Radio’s intended audience, including city officials, travels every day.
In September 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court vindicated Central Radio’s property rights, halting the unlawful attempt to take its property. IJ will not rest until Central Radio’s free speech rights are vindicated, as well. Unfortunately, a divided panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Norfolk’s suppression of Central Radio’s speech was constitutionally permissible. IJ will continue to litigate this important case to secure the free speech rights not only of Central Radio, but of all Americans.