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Camastro’s Signs Must Come Down, Says Judge

February 11, 2008
WHEELING — Elm Grove resident Vincent Camastro believes city officials have denied him freedom of speech — but an Ohio County circuit judge has ordered Camastro to remove the Lumbar Avenue signs that express his displeasure with city officials.

Also, city attorneys are seeking $56,590.59 in legal fees from Camastro following a federal lawsuit Camastro filed against the city in 2006.

Three of Camastro’s signs — which have remained in position since being erected several years ago — reflect his displeasure with city officials with statements like “The City of Wheeling has cheated me. They stopped me from building a car wash. I was censored at City Council on July 5th and not allowed to speak.”

Camastro erected a fourth sign on Nov. 8 that features the statement, “I am requesting anyone who has been wronged to come forward on May 1, 2008 at this location at 5:00 p.m. with 2 copies of evidence, affidavits, notarized statements detailing how you or someone you know has been wronged by these pathetic, corrupt individuals. We will then take this evidence to the FBI.”

But a ruling handed down by Judge Ronald E. Wilson last week states Camastro has until 4 p.m. Feb. 22 to remove the signs.

City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth said Camastro’s signs violate the city’s zoning ordinance. “This is not about freedom of speech; this is about zoning regulations,” she said.

Though Camastro believes city officials only want the signs removed because of their content, Humway-Warmuth said all signs are regulated throughout the city.

“We regulate everyone’s signs, regardless of whether or not they own the property. Not only are these signs in violation of the zoning ordinance, Mr. Camastro failed to apply for a sign permit, so we have the right to order them down,” she said.

Citing Wilson’s ruling, Humway-Warmuth added, “If he (Camastro) does not take the signs down, we will take them down.”

Peter Suwak, Camastro’s attorney, said his client’s options are to remove the signs; file an appeal of the ruling; or apply for the sign permit.

“We may ask for a stay of the order requiring that the signs be removed pending our appeal,” he said.

Suwak does not seem convinced the case is only about zoning and permits. “It is our contention in this lawsuit that the city is unhappy with the content of the signs,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the June 11, 2004, edition of The Intelligencer, Councilman Barry Crow explained why he believed Camastro should be required to remove the Lumbar Avenue signs.

“You’re not allowed to just stick signs anywhere ... it’s a clear violation of our sign ordinances,” Crow said in the article. “I want the city to take them (the signs) down and if he (Camastro) wants to, he can take us to court,” he said at the time.

The city of Wheeling and Crow, individually and in his capacity as a member of council, were named as defendants in a civil complaint filed by Camastro in U.S. District Court on June 7, 2006. However, a jury trial that had been scheduled to begin Oct. 23 was later canceled.

In a court document dated Oct. 9, Judge Frederick P. Stamp wrote, “With the dismissal of the federal civil rights claims, this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction ... and will dismiss ... without prejudice.”

Now, Crow — who was represented in the suit by Bradley K. Shafer and Michelle Dougherty of Steptoe and Johnson — said the city has nothing to do with the request for the $56,590.59 in legal fees against Camastro.

“Our insurance company is in charge of collecting those fees,” he said.

Suwak said he and Camastro are currently considering their options in the federal case. “It is hard for me to believe they spent $56,000 on that case,” he said.

Article Photos

Photo by Casey Junkins
An Ohio County circuit judge has ruled that the large, wooden signs on Lumbar Avenue in Elm Grove, built by Wheeling property owner Vincent Camastro to express his displeasure with city officials, must be removed by 4 p.m. Feb. 22.

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