Hamburg Town Justices Walter L. Rooth II and Gerald Gorman voluntarily removed themselves today from judging whether a resident’s sign protesting Gov. Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act law can be displayed on his fence.
The case will now be sent to Erie County Court for reassignment in another town court near Hamburg and that is expected to take about two weeks, according to attorney Jim Ostrowski, the attorney representing Scott Zawierucha.
Following the brief court appearance, Ostrowski held a news conference in the lobby of Hamburg Town Hall and declared the matter an issue of free speech.
“The core of the First Amendment is political speech. So obviously this is political speech and the sign ordinance is presumptively unconstitutional,” Ostrowski said.
Rooth, at the abbreviated hearing, cited the potential for conflict of interest because his son, Walter L. Rooth II is the Hamburg town attorney and the case could wind up in civil litigation. Gorman, who was not at the hearing, removed himself because in the past he has represented Zawierucha’s family members.
Town prosecutor John K. Jordan said the town is not trying to block free speech. “Government can regulate the physical characteristics of signs,” Jordan said. “We are not trying to regulate content.”
Town officials have cited concerns that the four foot by 10 foot sign on the back fence of Zawierucha’s property, which faces South Park Avenue, could be a traffic distraction.
Prior to the hearing, about 25 gun rights supporters attending a rally outside Town Hall in support of Scott Zawierucha’s right to display his sign.