Charlottesville anti-panhandling law is going to be challenged in federal court. Five current panhandlers say the law, preventing people from asking for money in certain areas along the downtown mall, violates their constitutional rights.
The six-page lawsuit is pretty basic and at the heart of it is a claim that the city of Charlottesville is violating the Bill of Rights.
"If one of my clients gets up with a sign that says help me and the other homeless, they're criminals," stated Attorney Jeffery Fogel.
Panhandlers in Charlottesville now have a voice defending their rights. Fogel is representing five men who are suing the city over a change to the panhandling ordinance in place, "If people are passively seeking money with a sign or a cup or an instrument case, there should be no problem whatsoever."
But in Charlottesville that is a problem, right now, depending on where you are. Last year city council passed a change in city solicitation code making it illegal to panhandle within 50 feet of the two downtown mall vehicle crossings, near outdoor cafes on the mall or vending carts and tables.
"Panhandlers should be treated the same as the musicians here on the mall. You can't set a double standard," said Michael Sloan, one of the plaintiffs named in the federal lawsuit.
Sloan says the code change was part of a systematic effort to push the homeless off the mall, "It's not how I want to make a living but right now I have not other choice. Nobody will give me a job."
While Sloan says it's not permanent, he will fight for his right and others to be able to ask for assistance anywhere on the mall.
"People have a right, a constitutional right protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution to ask other people for assistance whether that's the March of Dimes, the Salvation Army or in this case the five plaintiffs and that's what's at issue here," stated Fogel.
Since the lawsuit hasn't been filed yet, the city hasn't seen it. A city spokesperson tells me the biggest variable is whether the city's insurer will appoint, and pay for, outside counsel to represent the city. Even then city staff spends a fair amount of time in a supportive role but it's nothing like the time spent on a suit that is handled in house.
A group of five homeless people is getting ready to sue the city of Charlottesville. The issue centers around an amendment to the city's panhandling ordinance that restricts where panhandling can be done.
Jeffrey Fogel, the lawyer representing those involved in the lawsuit, is speaking out on Wednesday. He says the amendment to the city's panhandling ordinance is simply unconstitutional and he says he'll prove it in federal court.
Last year city council changed the code that deals with solicitation. Panhandlers are no longer allowed within 50 feet of the two downtown mall vehicular crossings. They can't solicit near outdoor cafes on the mall or vending carts where transactions are happening.
Fogel says the ordinance violates the first and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, "People have a right…a constitutional right to ask other people for assistance, whether that's the March of Dimes, the Salvation Army or in this case the 5 plaintiffs and that's what's at issue here."
He will have the lawsuit filed by Thursday. He and those he represents will hold a press conference Thursday morning at City Hall.
Fogel says the main purpose of the lawsuit is to overturn city council's change in the code. Secondary is compensation for the five people he represents.
The city hasn't been served with the lawsuit and at this point has no comment.
Five Homeless People Sue Charlottesville Over Panhandling OrdinanceMore>>