Mich. Town Gives Up Free Paper ‘Litter’ Case

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

The township fathers of West Bloomfield, Mich., indicated this week that they won’t make yet another appeal in the “littering” case they have pursued against The Birmingham-Bloomfield Eccentric since last summer.

According to LeeAnn Mitchell, circulation director for the newspaper’s parent group Observer & Eccentric Newspapers (O&E), and a March 3 account in the Detroit Free Press, township trustees decided not to pursue a second appeal in the case, pending assurances from the paper that it will not deliver unsolicited papers to residents who request non-delivery. That step has already been taken, Mitchell said.

Last summer, Township Attorney Timothy L. Cronin filed the littering charge — which carries a $500 fine and 90-day prison sentence — against Mitchell personally after residents Aleta and Kenneth Meskin complained that they had twice received copies of The Birmingham-Bloomfield Eccentric after asking the paper to stop delivery (E&P, Oct. 27, 2003).

Mitchell was later dropped as a defendant and the charge was re-filed against O&E.

As part of its sampling program, the Eccentric, with full news and advertising content, is delivered to both subscribers and non-subscribers to neighborhoods on a rotating basis.

In November, O&E won the case on its First Amendment argument. Ruling from the bench, Judge Kimberly Small of the 48th District Court for the Township of West Bloomfield, declared that the littering ordinance could not apply to the newspaper because the product delivered was non-commercial speech entitled to full Constitutional protection.

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