Lakeland woman fined by city for ‘obscene sign’ awarded more than $30K in First Amendment lawsuit

Photo courtesy of Daniel A. Horwitz of Horwitz Law, PLLC

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Lakeland woman has been awarded more than $30,000 in damages after filing a lawsuit alleging her First Amendment rights were violated by the city when she was repeatedly fined for placing a political sign in her yard.

Horwitz Law, the law firm representing Julie Pereira, said the city of Lakeland began issuing fines to her in January 2024 for a sign that read, “(expletive) ‘Em Both 2024,” referring to the presidential election.

The city argued that the sign violated the Lakeland Municipal Code, which prohibits signs containing “statements of an obscene, indecent or immoral nature which would offend public morals or decency” as well as signs containing statements of an obscene nature.

Pereira was asked to remove the sign or “cover the word so that it is not visible from the road and neighboring properties.” She eventually edited her sign, according to court documents.

Julie Pereira removed the sign after threats of daily fines and contempt of court. (Photo from Pereira v. City of Lakeland lawsuit)

Pereira soon removed the editorial page and was subsequently fined by the city, the lawsuit said. She has paid a total of $688.45 in fines since January.

In response to the fines, Pereira filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming her First Amendment rights had been violated.

Federal District Court Judge Mark Norris ruled Tuesday that the enforcement actions against Pereira were unconstitutional and the city could not take any further action against her for displaying the uncensored sign.

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Under the Horwitz Law ruling, Pereira will receive more than $32,000 in damages for fines and legal fees.

“The ability to tell politicians to (expletive) out themselves is a sacred American right,” said Daniel A. Horwitz, Pereira’s lead attorney. “We are proud to have protected Ms. Pereira’s right to express her political views and to have achieved a successful outcome in this important First Amendment case.”