Judge: Belchertown condo complex can’t order sign removal

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2021 9:19:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Belchertown condominium complex cannot order the removal of signs at or near the units of residents, a Hampshire Superior Court judge has ruled.

Judge Richard Carey cited the free speech provision of the Massachusetts Constitution in making his ruling in a case in which Margery Jess, a resident of Summer Hill Estates development, was ordered to remove her Black Lives Matter sign by the trustees of the development or face daily fines.

The case was filed by the Northampton law firm Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose, alongside the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Jess.

Carey ruled that the condominium owners or their tenants are allowed to post non-commercial, constitutionally protected signs at or near their condominiums, without prior permission from the association’s board of trustees.

Because the ruling was agreed to by all parties, it will not be appealed.

“I think it clarifies the free speech rights of condominium owners,” said Bill Newman, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Western Regional Law Office.

Luke Ryan, one of the attorneys who worked on the case, called it a “landmark decision.”

Ryan also said that he hopes that condominium associations and homeowners associations take notice.

Prior to the ruling, Carey issued a preliminary injunction on behalf of Jess allowing her to keep her Black Lives Matter sign up while the case was being litigated. Carey’s Friday ruling permanently enjoins the condominium’s trustees from interfering with Jess’ rights to post non-commercial, constitutionally protected signs.

“I am enormously appreciative of the Court’s judgment, which guarantees my right to freely exercise freedom of speech in support of anti-racism and social justice in my community,” said Jess, in a statement issued by the ACLU.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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