|D’head POA calls truce on political campaigns – Published in The Sea Coast Echo
By Priscilla Loebenberg
Friday’s scheduled preliminary hearing on a federal lawsuit against the Diamondhead Property Owners Association was canceled after the parties agreed on a temporary injunction that prevents the POA from enforcing rules limiting political campaigning.
Residents will be allowed to post signs and campaign door-to-door for the candidates of their choice in the upcoming June 4th municipal elections – Diamondhead’s first elections as an incorporated city.
“The POA agreed to suspend it’s sign and solicitation rule until a full hearing can be had,” said Amelia McGowan, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.
The ACLU is representing Diamondhead mayoral candidate John Fletcher and five other residents in the lawsuit that claims the POA’s rules infringe upon their First Amendment right to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Fletcher said the plaintiffs have documented dozens of instances of selective enforcement of POA rules, something that could potentially interfere with the election process.
POA President Marshall Kyger said the organization has not changed its position that the lawsuit has no merit.
“We believe the ACLU is wrong. We look forward to complete vindication at trial,” said Kyger.
He said the POA agreed to the temporary injunction primarily because there was insufficient time to prepare for the scheduled hearing.
“To our knowledge, no court ever has found a First Amendment violation based on private homeowner association enforcement of covenants prohibiting yard signs or door-to-door solicitation,” said defense attorney John Gutierrez in a press release on Friday. “You can’t predict what a court will do, but the law appears to be on our side.”
Plaintiffs claim that because of the way the POA is interconnected with the new city government, it is a “state actor” and subject to the same rules as government entities with regard to free speech.
The matter will be considered by Chief District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. A hearing date has not yet been set.