Xenia, Ohio (TFC) – In the ongoing saga of a journalist critical of a local government, court documents show that in order to prosecute the journalist the city is willing to ban almost all charity drives in the town.
Journalist Virgil Vaduva was arrested under a panhandling ordinance while collecting money for charity. He was then convicted of a fourth degree misdemeanor at trial, after the prosecution successfully argued that the law prohibited collecting money for charity. Vaduva was sentenced to 30 days in jail, about $1000 in fines and court costs, and community service. The jail sentence was suspended as long he completes the other portions of the sentence.
Documents are now available showing that the judge disregarded common sense and grammar when ruling in favor of the prosecution. The judge focuses on the conjunction “or” in the ordinance rather than the word “other.” The inclusion of the word “other” implies that all of the ways in which a person could commit panhandling need to be for personal gain. The word “other” was completely left out of the judge’s decision.
Xenia has now backed itself into a corner in several different ways. Failure to enforce the law equally amongst all charities is demonstrative proof that the city cared nothing for Vaduva’s charitable actions, but was intent on punishing a journalist that was critical of the government. The punitive damages for targeting a journalist under the color of law would set the taxpayers back substantially. The court is also ignoring the fact that panhandling ordinances that prohibit solicitation based on the content of the speech are unconstitutional. They have been ruled unconstitutional repeatedly in the same district.
Civil rights attorneys are estimating the value of the lawsuit to be between $20,000 and $250,000 if the city settles. If the city does not settle, it is likely to be a multimillion dollar judgment. Legal experts are referring to the case as a “slam dunk.”
Despite the controversy, city leaders are remaining quiet about the issue.
Xenia may be the case that finally shows local governments that targeting the poor with unconstitutional panhandling laws is not in the best interests of the community.