On February 5, 2008, in State v. DeAngelo, Docket No. A-73-07, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a municipality violated free speech rights by banning temporary signs on public streets, including a 10-foot high inflatable rat at a labor protest. This case was the subject of a previous blog entry wherein our office analyzed the oral argument which took place in September 2008.

The Court unanimously called a Lawrence Township ordinance, which prohibited “banners, pennants, streamers…portable signs, balloons or other inflated signs (except grand opening signs,” unduly restrictive of free speech and expression. Specifically, Justice John Wallace, Jr. wrote that the ordinance “is content-based, does not fairly advance any governmental interest, and is not narrowly tailored to prevent no more than the exact source of that evil that is seeks to remedy.” 

By way of background, in 2005, Wayne DeAngelo, a senior official with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 269, was fined $100 and assessed $33 in costs for using the inflatable rat to protest a Gold’s Gym being built in the township without union labor. A trial judge and the Appellate Division panel rejected constitutional challenges by DeAngelo and the union, but a dissenting appeals judge, Jack Sabatino, agreed the ordinance was constitutionally deficient.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Wallace said DeAngelo’s protest was protected by the state and federal constitutions, as to both content and location. To support same, he cited U.S. Supreme Court precedents holding that public streets, parks, and sidewalks are traditionally public forums that occupy a “special position in terms of First Amendment protection” and that government cannot restrict expressive activity in such venues without a “compelling reason.”

The Court also rejected the rationale advanced by the township that the ordinance was designed to promote aesthetics and maintain public safety. Specifically, the Court stated, “although they are salutary goals, they do not justify a content-based restriction on free speech” and that an ordinance that prohibits a union from displaying a rat balloon, while authorizing a similar display as part of a grand opening, is content-based.

This ruling is expected to have statewide implications since municipalities across New Jersey have similar ordinances. Therefore, many municipalities will have to rework their own ordinances in order to conform to the ruling. Moreover, according to Andrew Watson, DeAngelo’s attorney, the ruling is a landmark victory for labor activists. Specifically, Watson stated, “this vindicates their [labor union’s] rights to an orderly, non-threatening means of protest.” As such, this case represents another important judicial decision regarding labor protesting and its collision with free speech.

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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog (www.njpublicsafetyofficers.com) approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.