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  • Douglas J. Shumway

Attorneys in San Antonio: Free speech or obstruction of justice?


The popular San Antonio metropolitan paper My San Antonio Online recently reported on this story of a Texas man exercising what he claims is his right to free speech. Outside of Dallas, Ron Martin stood in an intersection holding a sign labeled “POLICE AHEAD,” with the intent, “to encourage drivers to slow down and drive carefully.” Police officers in the community saw it differently: a speed trap warning in violation of the city’s sign ordinance. Attorneys in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Austin and other large metropolitan areas of Texas, would probably be able to argue this case either way, which only a judge could interpret, but Martin himself was handcuffed and forcibly removed from the scene - but not before the free-speecher took out his cell phone and used it to record the arrest.

Martin may have had a hunch that this would be an interesting case, and he was prepared when two officers left the speed limit enforcement area and drove over to his position to make the arrest. Attorneys in San Antonio and other Texas cities where foot traffic is common on the roads, either due to panhandlers, newspaper peddlers or free-speechers like Martin haven’t commented on the arrest or Martin’s media comments, which include enthusiastic support of the city’s use of speed traps to make roads safer. “I think it’s absolutely important for officers to be on the streets and enforce laws…Ultimately, we’re doing the same thing. I just don’t wear a uniform. I’m the same thing as a speed limit sign, just reminding people that there is a limit here.”

While Martin’s words may affect and certainly elicit an emotional response from the public, police officers weren’t swayed, and attorneys in San Antonio and elsewhere could be hard pressed to argue against the signage ordinances on the books in a similar case. Specifying that people holding signs have to be on private property, and arguing that Martin was in the median, the officers cited Martin for noncompliance. Martin, however, disagrees, saying that the ordinances apply to businesses and claims protection under his first amendment rights. During Martin's first appearance in court, he plead not guilty to the misdemeanor charge. It’s currently unclear whether Martin plans to have counsel represent him, or whether he will advocate for himself in court, but it is doubtful that attorneys in San Antonio or Dallas would be clamoring for the job.

Officially, the police department refrains from public comment until the courts have finished with the case, which may be this month, as Martin has asked for a February 21 trial date in Municipal Court. “The issue is bigger than a simple sign along a busy road,” Martin insisted. “It’s free speech.” He maintains that the signage laws for businesses fall under advertising regulation, and that he was arrested simply because he angered police officers. It may now be up to the courts to decide his fate, and that of his “free speech” debate.


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