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Charge against Tom Paul dismissed

Round one in Sunnyside Municipal Court went to Tom Paul yesterday, as Judge pro tem Victor Lara dismissed the city's sign code charge against the Prosser contractor.

Lara sided with Paul and attorney J.J. Sandlin, noting Sunnyside's case pointed to chapter 15.36.190 of the Sunnyside Municipal Code, which only addresses the city's right to remove unlawful signs.

"It appears to me that the violation relates to another section of the municipal code," he told City Attorney Mark Kunkler. "There's no suggestion (in section 190) that there is a penalty to the potential violator."

Lara also took exception to the lack of any narrative or addendum explaining the series of events that led to the charge.

"I have no explanation for that," Kunkler said of the missing narrative, which is usually attached to the charge.

In addition, Lara discouraged the city's attempt to cite all of chapter 15.36 in the case.

"There are a lot of ordinances there," Lara said, observing that the numbers in 15.36, which apply to the sign code, range from .10 to .250.

Following the dismissal Kunkler produced a second sign code charge against Paul yesterday afternoon, this one referencing 15.36.200 that addresses the maximum sign area allowed. Kunkler also removed language alluding to all of 15.36.

Ironically, it was sign area that prompted the initial charge against Paul. The city contends that he exceeds the 100 square-foot sign limit on his South First Street property.

Paul filed to dismiss the charge because city ordinance defines a sign as having commercial language, while all but one of his (at last count) 40 signs have political messages protesting city policies.

The charge was dismissed yesterday, but Paul and the city will be back in court on March 22 for the new sign code charge.

Paul initially pursued a jury trial, but agreed to forego one since there may be a constitutional ruling on the first amendment over the messages on his signs.

Paul later said the outcome of the first charge went as he expected.

"The charges weren't based in law," he said of the dismissal. "They didn't apply."

Kunkler says the city is right where it wants to be in pursuing the charge.

"We're kind of where we anticipated we would be in the proceeding anyway," he said.

Just as he filed for dismissal on the first charge, Paul said he will probably do the same on the second.

"We have a (March 22) hearing set up," he said. "We'll likely file for dismissal by then."

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