UPDATE: Lawyer Defends Panhandlers Lawsuit

By: Jessica Jaglois; Chris Stover Email
By: Jessica Jaglois; Chris Stover Email

Are They Really Homeless?

Despite the claims of Fogel and his clients, Charlottesville City spokesman Ric Barrick tells the Newsplex his understanding is soem of the five people involved in the lawsuit against the City are not in fact homeless.

Barrick says most of them have homes and cites criminal records with known addresses on file as proof.

CBS19 searched public court documents and found the following criminal information on the five men involved in the lawsuit:

- Albert Clatterbuck: Open Container violation in 2003

- Christopher Martin: Nothing found

- Earl McGraw: Tresspassing in 2008

- John Jordan: Public swearing/intoxication, misdemeanor assault

- Michael Sloan: 2 counts of marijuana possession

June 23, 2011

The lawyer representing five Charlottesville panhandlers, who are taking legal action against the city, defended their lawsuit Thursday morning. Not only did Jeffrey Fogel call the panhandling ordinance unconstitutional, but also an assault on the homeless population's dignity and rights as American citizens.

"Everybody should have a right on the Downtown Mall simply to hold up a sign," argued Fogel, who believes the ordinance restricts the rights of homeless people to ask for assistance. "If people stand around an outdoor cafe with sings that say 'don't help the homeless', that's perfectly fine. However, if a homeless person gets up in that same location with a same sized sign that says 'please help me', they're criminals."

Businesses along the Downtown Mall have long fought panhandling. Now, panhandlers are fighting back. Five self-identified homeless men are suing the City of Charlottesville because they believe their civil rights are being violated by the ordinance.

"If you're a musician you can set up anywhere on the mall you want to," says Michael Sloan, one of the plaintiffs. "But because you're a panhandler, you're scum."

In the complaint, the men say they have to panhandle to eat and that an ordinance adopted by city council in August 2010 puts tough restrictions on their livelihood. It makes solicitation of any kind illegal within 50 feet of two mall intersections - 2nd Street SE and 4th Street NE. Citizens also are not allowed to beg close to restaurants or banks.

Since city council passed the law, Charlottesville police have issued three tickets to panhandlers. The misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $500.

The Downtown Business Association says the ordinance has been a big success. Business owners believe it's doing exactly what it was designed to do, keep customers on the Mall safe and hassle-free.

"We certainly think that the panhandling change was beneficial and we don't think it impacted anybody adversely," said Bob Stroh of the DBAC. "As far as the panhandlers are concerned, you still see them out every day."

Panhandlers disagree.

"They say we're hassling people," argued plaintiff Albert Clatterbuck. "How are we hassling people by holding up a sign and not saying anything?"

Nearly three days after word of the lawsuit first spread, the list of people questioning the ordinance is growing and now includes local NAACP president Rick Turner and City Councilor Holly Edwards.

"When we passed it, even then I struggled with that balance between charity and justice," Edwards explained. "Any time there's a discussion about civil rights or civil liberties, we have to take those concerns very seriously."

City council adopted the ordinance as a compromise between businesses who wanted to see less panhandling and the people who rely on it. The city says the solicitation ordinance applies to everyone, even street performers and Salvation Army bell-ringers.

However, Fogel and his clients say the restrictions target the homeless, violating their First and Fourteenth amendment rights. They believe everyone should have same protection under the law.

Edwards says a majority of city council has no interest in amending the ordinance. Ultimately, the courts will have to decide whether the soliciting ordinance is a violation of the panhandlers' civil rights.

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