Craig S. Semon|Telegram & Gazette
BROOKFIELD A man who has been butting heads for years here with selectmen, municipal employees and other residents by needling them on a large yellow sign outside his businessalongRoute 9, can keep his sign and continue to express his opinions for all passersby to see no matter how unpopular and unflattering his expressed views are.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman announced that the civil action involving John D. Holdcraft, plaintiff, and his infamous 8-foot-by-4-foot Freedom of Speech sign on6 South Maple St., and the Town of Brookfield and Town of Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals, defendants, has been settled.
Judge Hillman ordered that this action is hereby dismissed without costs and without prejudice to the right of any party, upon good cause shown, to reopen the action within 60 days if settlement is not consummated.
Since the beginning, Holdcraft insisted that he was standing up for freedom of speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.
Holdcraft calls the settlement, a victory for the little guy.
We the people cannot take for granted our First Amendment, Our freedom of speech. When it is challenged, we have to defend it whatever the burden, cost or sacrifice it takes to preserve it, he said. I fought against an abusive, corrupt town government for years and was able to succeed and overcome and stand tall for our Freedom of Speech in our Town of Brookfield.
James P. Ehrhard, Esq., of Ehrhard & Associates, P.C., of Worcester, served as Holdcrafts attorney, while Jeffrey T. Blake and Janelle M. Austin, both of KP Law, P.C., Town Counsel, Boston, served as Town of Brookfield and Town of Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals attorneys.
The Town is interested in enforcing its zoning bylaws and it was also interested in resolving any issues that it may or may not have had with Mr. Holdcraft, Blake said. As a result, they entered into a settlement agreement, which apart of it is confidential, which requires Mr. Holdcraft to reconfigure a sign that he has down on 6 South Maple St. The Town got a reconfiguration of the sign and the parties agreed to resolve their differences.
Holdcraft said his two-sided sign is not going to be any smaller and the messages on the sign are going to continue. In fact, he said, The angle of one side (of the sign) is going to be more facing Route 9.
There will be more visibility when get it gets re-angled, Holdcraft said. Thats what they wanted me to do. Thats what Im doing. And the reason theyre doing that its just another form of harassment.
Federal Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler mediated on the settlement agreement between the parties.
It was a very positive outcome for Mr. Holdcraft. He gets to keep his sign up with one minor change to the spacing on the front corner angle, Ehrhard said. The financial settlement piece is strictly confidential.
Added Blake: Mediation is typically confidential and the judge made it specific that certainly any dollar figure that may or may not have been agreed to are strictly confidential.
In March 2019, Hillman granted the Town of Brookfield and Town of Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals motion to dismiss, in which Holdcraft, through his attorney, filed an appeal. Hillmans dismissal order also allowed a new amended complaint to be filed.
The amended complaints First Amendment Constitutional claim survived another motion to dismiss. And that would have headed to trial, Ehrhard said. Thereafter, the town and Mr. Holdcraft with their legal counsel were able to fashion a settlement.
According to court documents, Ehrhard said Holdcraft had properly claimed that Town of Brookfield and Town of Brookfield ZBA violated his free speech and due process rights under the U.S.Constitution.
The actions taken by the defendants to force the removal of Holdcrafts sign was a clear and intentional attempt to silence the speech of Holdcraft opining on town officials and town actions, Ehrhard said in court filings.
On or about July 16, 2003, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted the special permit to Holdcraft.
Included among the conditions were: a sign stating Retail Service for Charitable Reasons was to conform to the towns zoning bylaws; and a two-year special permit would be subject to renewal for another two years if Holdcraft fully complied with the permit.
The special permit and subsequent extension expired Dec. 31, 2005, and there are no records that Holdcraft sought a further extension, nor has he sought a new special permit for the business use and signage under the current Brookfield zoning bylaw.
In early 2009, then Selectmen James W. Allen and Rudolf Rudy Heller started complaining about Holdcrafts display of political opinions and criticism of town officials. Holdcraft often mentioned them by name on the sign.
However, on March 24, 2009, selectmen announced their hands are tied when it came to attempting to silence Holdcraft.
On March 21, 2017, Selectman Clarence R. Snyder III, who is one of Holdcrafts favorite targets on the sign, made a written request for the towns zoning enforcement officer to issue a cease-and-desist order against Holdcraft for conducting an illegal business with illegal signage at 6 South Maple St. (Route 9).
Citing state law, Snyder, who said he was acting solely as a resident, was seeking the removal of the business, shed and signage from the premises. A few weeks later, Zoning Enforcement Officer Nicholas Thomo sided with Snyder and issued a cease-and-desist order.
After several combustible public hearings and meetings on the matter, the Town of Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals ruled in August 2017 that Holdcrafts double-sided, yellow sign on his property facing Route 9 that derogatorily mentions various selectmen, municipal employees and regular citizens by name had to be taken down and his special permit to operate his Retail Service for Charitable Reasons at 6 South Maple St. expired in 2005.
Through the years, his controversial postings include: Following Rudys Policies is like drinking Jim Jones KoolAid! Back in the day, (Selectmen) Peter (OConnell) & Rudy (Heller) would have been tarred and feather (sic), Truth Against Brookfields Town Govt., Linda Lincoln Has A Gag Order On Town TV & Select Meetings and We Will Not Allow C Punk Snyder To Stomp Out Our 1st Amendment (Punk is Mr. Holdcrafts nickname for Snyder).
Not one to cease-and-desist quietly, Holdcraft argued that Snyder is no way a person aggrieved because he is not an abutter to the property, has no ownership interested in the property and lives nowhere near the property.
In addition, Holdcraft argued that his sign is protected by the First Amendment.
At the time, Town counsel, KP Law, sided with Holdcrafts argument.
In the civil action involving Holdcraft and the Town of Brookfield and Town of Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals, Holdcraft was seeking compensation for the infringement of his constitutional right of speech, plus damages for his constitutional deprivation of proper due process, Ehrhard stated.
In the Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendants Motion to Dismiss, Ehrhard claims the Town of Brookfield and its governing boards followed none of the statutory procedures required to attempt to cancel Holdcrafts permits for his land and sign.
Ehrhard said the attempt to remove Holdcrafts sign was done for no other reason than to ensure that the sign was taken down and could no longer be used.
In the Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendants Motion to Dismiss, Ehrhard claimed that the Defendants Motion to Dismiss incorrectly states that Holdcrafts complaint vaguely alleges that Snyder and the members of the ZBA, or those acting on their behalf, had the effect of depriving Holdcraft of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, specifically the free speech provisions of the First Amendment of the United States Constitutions.
The complaint is anything but vague about what occurred and how his right to speak freely and in a manner he so chooses was violated, Ehrhard stated in Holdcrafts opposition to defendants motion to dismiss.
To show his First Amendment rights were violated, Holdcraft had to prove he engaged in constitutionally protected conduct, was subjected to an adverse action by the defendant, and the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse action, Ehrhard said.
Ehrhard said Holdcraft was engaged in the purest of constitutionally protected conduct.
He (Holdcraft) was proclaiming his opinion about public town officials and town actions on a sign he owned on property he owned on the main street in the center of town, Ehrhard said in his argument. If the First Amendment exists for any reason, it is to protect such speech and conduct.
In addition, Ehrhard said Holdcraft was subjected to an adverse action by the defendants.
Holdcraft retained a permit for his sign and property for nearly twelve years, Ehrhard said. The defendants actions were for the specific sole purpose of forcing Holdcraft to take the sign down. There, literally, was no other reason for the actions taken by the defendants against Holdcraft.
Furthermore, Ehrhard claims Holdcrafts protected conduct of placing messages on his sign stating his opinions and thoughts on town public officials and town actions was not only a substantial or motivating factor for the adverse actions, it was the only reason for the adverse actions.
On Thursday, Blake insisted that this was not a case of the Town of Brookfield attacking an individual over something he may or may not have said on his sign but, first and foremost, a zoning case.
Its a zoning issue and whether or not a special permit had lapse, Blake said. There were other aspects of the special permit that we were also requesting compliance with to the extent that the plaintiff wanted to make it all about the sign. It wasnt all about the sign. It was about zoning compliance…And the town has a significant interest in getting compliance from all of the zoning, no matter who you are and no matter what you say.
The plaintiff originally filed the suit in Worcester County Superior Court but the Town of Brookfield moved the case to federal court. The Town of Brookfield filed a motion to dismiss and Holdcraft filed an appeal and amended complaint. The Town of Brookfield filed a motion to dismiss again but the motion to dismiss was defeated and the case was settled.
Holdcraft has already celebrated his court room "victory with two messages displayed on his sign Rat Punk Snyder (sic) (named spelled wrong and with a backwards N) Failed To Take Your Yellow Sign!! and Yellow Sign @ 1st Amendment Still Stands Tall In Brookfield.
I want to thank all the people over the years that have supported me on my sign, Holdcraft said.
Snyder said, I have no comment."
- Floridas ban on bans will test First Amendment rights of social media companies - TechCrunch - May 24th, 2021
- Prince Harry's First Amendment Aversion Is Funny; the Governments That Agree Are Scary - Reason - May 24th, 2021
- Face Masks and the First Amendment - The Wall Street Journal - May 24th, 2021
- First Amendment Confusion | Opinion | Northern Express - northernexpress.com - May 24th, 2021
- The First Amendment and Mask Mandates Reason.com - Reason - May 24th, 2021
- OPINION: Prince Harry, allow me to explain the First Amendment - The Richmond Observer - May 24th, 2021
- Wicker, Hyde-Smith Cosponsor the 'Don't Weaponize the IRS Act' - Senator Roger Wicker - May 24th, 2021
- Opinion: 'Ohio will never bow to totalitarian pressures' - The Columbus Dispatch - May 24th, 2021
- If Courts Cant Agree on Who an Appropriate Person, Is for Notice of Sexual Harassment Under Title IX, How Can We Expect a Student in Crisis to Do So?... - May 24th, 2021
- Franklin Graham Can't Handle Prince Harry's Criticism of the First Amendment - Friendly Atheist - Patheos - May 24th, 2021
- Sharp increase in hate crimes has Mass. legislators looking to tighten laws - Milford Daily News - May 24th, 2021
- Tillis, Colleagues Introduce 'Don't Weaponize the IRS Act' - Thom Tillis - May 24th, 2021
- Washington: Second Amendment Banned in First Amendment Spaces After the Signing of Anti-Gun Measure - NRA ILA - May 16th, 2021
- Citing First Amendment, 4th Circuit reverses conviction for retired Air Force officer's use of N-word - ABA Journal - May 16th, 2021
- Prince Harry Calls The First Amendment 'Bonkers' and He Makes a Good Point - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - May 16th, 2021
- The First Amendment's Role in Broadcast and Online Regulation - Lexology - May 16th, 2021
- The Road Ahead for Net Neutrality and the First Amendment - JD Supra - May 16th, 2021
- Compliance Corner: A Brief Introduction to the History and Theory of Campaign-Finance Law, Part II - InsiderNJ - May 16th, 2021
- New Lawsuit Argues That D.C.'s Ban on Dancing at Weddings Violates the First Amendment - Reason - May 16th, 2021
- Commentary: It's time to revive Fairness Doctrine and expand it - Crain's Detroit Business - May 16th, 2021
- Social And Political Issues And The Workplace Implications For Employers - Employment and HR - United States - Mondaq News Alerts - May 16th, 2021
- Protesters: Changes to the Rockford City Market are meant to stymie their message - Rockford Register Star - May 16th, 2021
- Twitter's lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tossed by federal judge - The Texas Tribune - May 16th, 2021
- Idaho Press Club objects to the subpoena of journalist Nate Eaton, of East Idaho News - East Idaho News - May 16th, 2021
- Trump, the Facebook Ban, and Who Decides - Bloomberg Law - May 16th, 2021
- First Amendment Versus The Civil Rights Act: A Clash Of Titans - Employment and HR - United States - Mondaq News Alerts - May 3rd, 2021
- Commentary: How to live your First Amendment freedoms - Press Herald - May 3rd, 2021
- Students and First Amendment Week: The Right to Be Loud - BVU The Tack Online - May 3rd, 2021
- The First Amendment and Social Media The Tack Online - BVU The Tack Online - May 3rd, 2021
- Justices Appear Poised to Strike Down California Law in Case with Potential to Allow More Dark Money in Politics - Law & Crime - May 3rd, 2021
- A close call this time, but lawmakers have a bad attitude on openness | Cotterell - Tallahassee Democrat - May 3rd, 2021
- The Two Teds - Episode 3 - The First Amendment - Gibson Dunn - April 19th, 2021
- MyPillow CEO Recruits First Amendment Heavy Hitters to Fight Dominion - The Daily Beast - April 19th, 2021
- Some LGBTQ groups and leaders are taking different sides in First Amendment case - Out In Jersey - April 19th, 2021
- Tenth Circuit Grants Qualified Immunity to Police Who Knowingly Violated the First Amendment - Cato Institute - April 19th, 2021
- Spencer and Volokh Discuss the First Amendment and Content Moderation on Social Media Platforms - UMass Dartmouth - April 19th, 2021
- Lecturers speak on the importance of the First Amendment in the civil rights movement - Iowa State Daily - April 19th, 2021
- Protect the police or the First Amendment? | TheHill - The Hill - April 19th, 2021
- Smartmatic Calls Bulls--t on Foxs First Amendment Argument - Vanity Fair - April 19th, 2021
- Letter: Equality Act targets First Amendment rights | Letters to the Editor | readingeagle.com - Reading Eagle - April 19th, 2021
- MLive/Kalamazoo Gazettes Brad Devereaux wins First Amendment Award for exposing closed-door meetings - MLive.com - April 19th, 2021
- The IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism Puts Jews on the Wrong Side of the First Amendment - Jewish Week - April 19th, 2021
- Project Veritas Gonna Sue Twitter For Defamatory Section 230 Censorship And First Amendment Assault Or Something - Above the Law - April 19th, 2021
- Letter: On God and the First Amendment | Communities | mainstreet-nashville.com - Main Street Nashville - April 19th, 2021
- Justice Thomas's Misguided Concurrence on Platform Regulation - Lawfare - April 19th, 2021
- 'Hate has no home here': City of Appleton puts up sign countering sign with homophobic slur - Post-Crescent - April 19th, 2021
- Prohibited prayer and the limits of government authority even in a pandemic | Sullum - Chicago Sun-Times - April 19th, 2021
- Clarence Thomas plays a poor devils advocate in floating First Amendment limits for tech companies - TechCrunch - April 6th, 2021
- First Circuit Upholds First Amendment Right to Secretly Audio Record the Police - EFF - April 6th, 2021
- Justice Clarence Thomas Takes Aim At Tech And Its Power 'To Cut Off Speech' - NPR - April 6th, 2021
- "Fake News" and the First Amendment - University of Dayton - News Home - April 6th, 2021
- Bar owners went beyond First Amendment rights with their 'raised voices, interrupting,' AG argues - Cambridge Day - April 6th, 2021
- Clarence Thomas blasts Section 230, wants common-carrier rules on Twitter - Ars Technica - April 6th, 2021
- Drones (and the First Amendment) take on regulatory overreach in North Carolina - Chatham Journal Weekly - April 6th, 2021
- The university response to offensive speech often reflects a feeble commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion - Poynter - April 6th, 2021
- Online event examines the relationship between free speech and firearms - Nevada Today - April 6th, 2021
- Official Website for the Governor of Maryland - maryland.gov - April 6th, 2021
- Opinion: Remembering the Core Four Pillars of Journalism Amid a Pandemic - Times of San Diego - April 6th, 2021
- Tenth Circuit Misses Opportunity to Affirm the First Amendment Right to Record the Police - EFF - April 2nd, 2021
- Is There a First Amendment Right to Tweet? - JSTOR Daily - April 2nd, 2021
- Is blocking a constituent on Twitter against the First Amendment? This DC resident thinks so | The Hill is Home - The Hillishome - April 2nd, 2021
- The 6th Circuit Reached the Right Conclusion on Preferred Pronouns. Other Courts Should Follow Suit. - Heritage.org - April 2nd, 2021
- Why It's So Hard to Prosecute White Extremists - The Marshall Project - April 2nd, 2021
- Loeb School announces free spring classes and writing workshops - The Union Leader - April 2nd, 2021
- Parler Forced To Explain The First Amendment To Its Users After They Complain About Parler Turning Over Info To The FBI - Techdirt - March 31st, 2021
- Terrorism and Other Dangerous Online Content: Exporting the First Amendment? - Just Security - March 31st, 2021
- The First Amendment: Rarely Popular, Always Necessary - The Dispatch - March 31st, 2021
- The First Amendment: What It Is & What It Isn't - WSHU - March 31st, 2021
- Drawing a Line Between Internet Trolls and the First Amendment - Government Technology - March 31st, 2021
- BREAKING: ACLU Representatives Join Unprecedented Podcast to Discuss HUGE Ramifications of Creasy/Lindenbaum/TCPA on First Amendment Rights - Lexology - March 31st, 2021
- Courts: Bystanders have right to record police under the First Amendment - Newsday - March 31st, 2021
- RCFP urges court to order Texas AG to stop investigating Twitter - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 31st, 2021
- Pronouns in the University Classroom & the First Amendment - Reason - March 31st, 2021
- Matt Taibbi: A Biden appointee's troubling views on the First Amendment - National Post - March 31st, 2021
- Pronouns and the Philosophy Professor - The Wall Street Journal - March 31st, 2021
- Letters to the editor | Opinion | journalpatriot.com - Wilkes Journal Patriot - March 31st, 2021
- Jane Briggs-Bunting, who championed the 1st Amendment, dies at 70 - Detroit Free Press - March 31st, 2021
- Was a Trump critic's 1st Amendment violated by Yale? We're about to find out. - MSNBC - March 31st, 2021
- The Cyberlaw Podcast: Can Editorial Middleware Cut the Power of the Big Platforms? - Lawfare - March 31st, 2021
- Judge In Chauvin Trial Rules That Underage Witnesses Can Testify - NPR - March 31st, 2021