Federal judge halts enforcement of Lexington ordinance opposed by Herald-Leader

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A federal judge has ruled that Lexington, Ky., cannot enforce a recently passed ordinance that restricts where advertising and other unsolicited printed materials can be delivered.

U.S. District Court Judge Karen Caldwell ruled Friday that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government cannot enforce the ordinance that was supposed to take effect Monday until a court case challenging the ordinance has been resolved.

The Lexington Herald-Leader had asked Caldwell to issue a temporary injunction, stopping the enforcement of the ordinance, as part of its lawsuit against the Lexington government. The Herald-Leader has argued that the ordinance violates the First Amendment by restricting where its free weekly publication, the Community News, can be delivered. The ordinance says that any unsolicited materials must be placed on a porch, attached to the front door, or put into a mail slot or a distribution box. Violators could face a $200 fine for each violation.

In a 17-page decision issued Friday, Caldwell said the newspaper has shown that it might be harmed if the ordinance went into effect before the merits of the newspaper's claim against the city was heard. The newspaper delivers 100,000 Community News publications to non-subscribers once a week to people's driveways. The Herald-Leader has argued that recent U.S. Supreme Court cases say governments cannot dictate how news is delivered. Community News contains news and advertising content.

The city has countered that it is not restricting free speech – the newspaper can still deliver the Community News – but that it is only restricting where the newspapers can be delivered. Moreover, the distribution of unsolicited materials causes public safety and litter problems, some city officials have said. The newspapers are sometimes left outside, and they pile up and end up in the street, on sidewalks or in the city's storm sewers, they say.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city has not decided whether it will appeal Caldwell's decision.

"We are evaluating the decision and have no further comment," Straub said.

The Urban County Council voted in March to pass the ordinance after nearly two years of debate.

The case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky is being watched closely by the newspaper industry as other cities across the country consider similar ordinances.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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