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Limits on day laborers halted

A judge questions the legality of Baldwin Park ordinance curtailing the solicitation of work.

July 17, 2007|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

Day laborers can continue to solicit work in Baldwin Park until a trial is held to determine the constitutionality of a local ordinance that aims to limit such activities, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie issued a preliminary injunction barring the city from enforcing a local ordinance that prohibits laborers from soliciting work on sidewalks or in parking lots if doing so limits pedestrians to less than three feet of walking space.

The injunction will remain in place until a trial is held over the legality of the ordinance.

"It's a great ruling for our clients," said Kristina Campbell, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represents some of the day laborer groups that filed suit against the city.

"They can continue to look for work without fear of being arrested or ticketed for standing on a sidewalk based on some kind of arbitrary standard."

Campbell said the judge issued the injunction after expressing concern about the constitutionality of the ordinance, which she said was a constraint on free speech that would have caused "irreparable harm" to day laborers. The city, she said, could have found less restrictive ways of ensuring rights of way for pedestrians.

June Ailin, the private attorney representing Baldwin Park, said Rafeedie consulted U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions that deemed content-based speech limitations to be illegal. She said the judge made his decision based on a recent case between the American Civil Liberties Union and Las Vegas involving solicitation in a pedestrian mall.

But Ailin said the case was "not applicable" because the circumstances were different.

Baldwin Park's ordinance "is a legitimate regulation of time, place and manner," Ailin said. "What we're dealing with is commercial speech, not political speech, not speech promoting any intellectual content. One might go so far as to say that what we're dealing with isn't any kind of speech at all -- it's doing business."

The city's ordinance, which was approved by the City Council and took effect July 6, is also intended to protect day laborers by limiting where and how they can solicit work, Ailin said.

"It'll keep them from getting run down by passing cars," she said. "It's an issue of public health and safety."

A trial date on the ordinance has not been set.

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