by Livia Borak

If a prospective client skims the list of practice areas on the Coast Law Group website, they won’t find constitutional law on the list. But CLG has always been a community-based law firm, and that often defines our work more than any area of “expertise”. That core belief is the reason we decided to pay particular attention when Ian Thompson, the widower of late Encinitas City Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan contacted us about the Arts Alive banner controversy.

Many of us at CLG considered Maggie a friend and champion for the environment. Her passing left a serious void in the community. Frankly no one could have replaced her voice on the City Council, but the least we could do was honor her service and her memory. That’s what the Arts Alive banner was: a commemorative tribute to a late Councilwoman with a passion for life, for her constituents, and for the arts.

When it came down to it, the City’s decision not to allow the banners to be displayed as intended just felt wrong. Those intimately familiar with the City’s bitter City Council tension knew what was at stake and what was likely occurring behind the scenes. So when Ian came to us asking if there was anything we could do to fight this decision, we looked for the law to back up what we already knew was a bad decision.

Of course, it turns out the City’s refusal to allow Maggie’s image to be displayed wasn’t just done in poor taste, but in violation of the 1st Amendment. A government’s attempt to silence a certain group of speakers, or their particular message, should always be fought vigorously. Where such unlawful means are successful, they spread and poison the community and our democratic system.

Only after we threatened to sue and the issue became a political hot potato for certain council members did the City make the right decision. We’re proud to have played a part in this victory for Ian and for the community. Hopefully by forcing the City to amend its sign ordinance we’ll prevent this kind of political embarrassment and gamesmanship in the future. But that’s part of our responsibility as a member of the community, and as members of the legal profession. We use the tools available to us to right the wrongs in the places we work and live.

We’re thankful that Ian thought of us when he needed legal representation, and equally happy with the results. The fact that we’re invested in the result not only makes the victory that much sweeter, but it’s part of the reason we fight so hard in the first place.