MARCH 3, 2022, WEST PALM BEACH – Yesterday, the Florida Justice Institute (FJI), with West Palm Beach attorney Sabarish Neelakanta, filed a lawsuit against Palm Beach County seeking to invalidate a County ordinance that makes it a crime for people to solicit for charitable contributions or business along any road. The ordinance also criminalizes displaying information of any kind, and violations are punishable by up to 60 days in jail. In the last two years alone, over a hundred people have been arrested or cited for violating these ordinances—nearly all of them homeless people requesting donations. The suit seeks an immediate declaration that the law violates the First Amendment, and an injunction stopping enforcement of the ordinance.
The Plaintiff is Clarence Richter, a long-time resident of Palm Beach County who is homeless. He requests donations from pedestrians and drivers to help with his survival, but he fears being arrested for doing so. He has been cited numerous times under the ordinance and been assessed with thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.
“The County cannot criminalize requests for donations, most of which are made by poor and homeless people just trying to survive,” said Sabarish Neelakanta, lead attorney on the case. “This speech is protected by the First Amendment.”
This ordinance has already been declared unconstitutional by Palm Beach County Court Judge Sherri Collins in a separate criminal case heard in November of 2021. Nonetheless, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has continued to enforce the ordinance by arresting people under it. On February 15, 2022, the attorneys sent a letter to Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg demanding that prosecutions under this unconstitutional ordinance be dropped. To date, no response has been received
“These laws are simply used to criminalize poverty and homelessness,” said Ray Taseff, attorney with the Florida Justice Institute. “A criminal justice response to this issue is a cruel and counterproductive strategy.”
This lawsuit is part of FJI’s effort to end the criminalization of poverty in the state of Florida. The attorneys have also filed a similar lawsuit against the City of Pompano Beach over a similar ordinance. In response, Pompano Beach repealed a portion of the ordinance and revised other portions. That case, McDonald v. City of Pompano Beach, Case No. 20-CV- 60297, is still pending against the revised ordinance. FJI also sued the City of Fort Lauderdale over a similar ordinance, resulting in a judge declaring it unconstitutional and preliminarily enjoining its enforcement; that case is Messina v. City of Fort Lauderdale, Case No. 21-CV-60168. FJI also participated in a lawsuit against the City of West Palm Beach over a similar ordinance, after which the City repealed the ordinance and settled the case; that case is Williams v. City of West Palm Beach, Case No. 21-CV-81537
This case at issue against Palm Beach County is Richter v. Palm Beach County, Case No. 22-cv-80331 in the Southern District of Florida.
For more information, contact Sabarish Neelakanta, email@example.com, 561-350-0369.