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Time, Place and Manner Restrictions on the First Amendment

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of the First Amendment. We have also discussed that speech is not always just speech — it can also be conduct. Today, we are going to talk about legitimate government restrictions on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. One such restriction established in case law decided by the Supreme Court of the United States is restrictions on time, place and manner of speech.

What is a “Time, Place & Manner” Restriction?

Time, place and manner restrictions include regulations of when, where and how someone speaks. For example, a school may tell its students that they may not discuss politics during class. A state court may require that no one say anything at all in a court room unless they are an attorney or a witness on the stand. Some government buildings prohibit any sort of protest or speech within the buildings themselves, allowing the government workers to work unimpeded by any sort of disruptions around them. (For example, you can’t march into Fort Knox and demand the right to protest.) These are all examples of time, place and manner restrictions. 

There are a few requirements to sustain a time, place and manner restriction in court. If challenged, the government entity must be able to show that these restrictions are “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “significant governmental interest.” For example, the school district that says that its students may not engage in any political speech at all during the entire school day, whether in or out of classes because it is worried about distractions in the classroom, is probably guilty of an overboard restriction that would not be sustained by a court. The goal of a good education may be a significant government interest, but there are less restrict ways to achieve that goal. The school might be able to require that students not talk while in certain types of classes that have nothing to do with politics, for example, while leaving them free to discuss their views throughout the rest of the day. 

“Content Neutral” Restrictions

restrictions to the first amendment

Another important point is that a restriction must be applied equally across the board and must be “content neutral.” In other words, a school that says that students may not talk about religion during specific classes but allows discussion of any other sort of philosophy or politics is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Similarly, if a courtroom was to say that no one can protest out in front of the court, but then allows specific demonstrations for increased government salaries inside, this would be an example of discrimination against speech based on content. In these cases, the supposed time, place and manner restriction is just an illegal attempt by the government to restrict speech that it does not find appealing. 

What Do You Do if Your Rights are Violated?

What do you do if your rights are violated by a time, place, and manner restriction? There are various types of civil rights lawsuits available to you. Figuring out whether a time, place and manner restriction is an appropriate restriction of speech is a complicated process and requires careful analysis of the challenged regulation, the case law that has been decided on these topics, and sometimes even what you desire to say. In future blog posts on this topic, we are going to cover other restrictions on the First Amendment that the government may pass.

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Harassment Charges in Berks County Dismissed – March 2020

Last month, Attorney Joel Ready obtained dismissal of harassment charges in Berks County. The charges had been filed against a defendant over an alleged dispute with an ex-girlfriend. After oral argument in front of a Berks County Magisterial District Judge, the charges were dropped completely. The charges were filed in the Bernville area “upon information received” by a State Trooper, which means that the Trooper was filing the charges based on what the alleged victim told him. 

“We’re glad to see these charges dismissed,” Attorney Ready says. “This case shows, once again, the importance of being prepared to fight charges and not merely plead guilty to avoid the trouble of litigation.” 

More About Harassment Charges

Harassment is a summary offense under Pennsylvania Law, which means that it comes with a fine and potential confinement up to ninety (90) days in prison. In some circumstances, harassment charges can also result in higher penalties, including a misdemeanor conviction. Harassment requires that the Commonwealth prove that the defendant either physically assaulted or repeatedly annoyed someone with no legitimate purpose.

Harassment charges do go on your permanent record, although, if they are a summary offense it is not considered a “criminal record.” Nonetheless, potential employers, family members, friends, neighbors and others can find that you were found guilty of these charges if you plead guilty to them.

Contact Us Today

It is important to speak with an experienced criminal offense attorney about harassment charges so the attorney can help you decide whether you should challenge the charges or not. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today for more information.

February 2020 Recap

What were we up to in February 2020? Our attorneys have been working hard at settling cases and resolving conflicts on behalf of our clients. 

Attorney David Crossett

Attorney David Crossett has been working on a number of personal injury cases in Berk’s County, Pennsylvania. He is helping victims involved in car accidents to receive repayment of their medical bills, lost wages and compensation for their pain and suffering. Most of the personal injury cases he has worked on this month have been cases that are preparing settle based on a demand with the insurance company outside of court. Attorney Crossett also made national news last month, in this case representing Gerald Groff, a U.S. postal worker who is suing his former employer for violations of his first amendment rights. Attorney Crossett has also been deeply involved in a lawsuit in Bucks County over an insurance company refusing to pay for the enormous damage done to someone’s property when a truck ran into their house. 

Attorney Joel Ready

Attorney Joel Ready has resolved several criminal cases with favorable plea deals and another criminal case after a trial in front of a judge in Reading, Pennsylvania. Attorney Ready has also been advising one of our Section 8 Housing clients regarding complaints they’ve received about their facility. Finally, Attorney Ready has successfully settled a personal injury claim for an individual who was injured in a car accident located in the Reading area. 

That’s a quick glimpse at our work in the month of February. We hope you’ve had a great month as well. As always if you have questions about your legal concerns call us at Cornerstone Law Firm.

Criminal Trial Attorneys in Berks County

If you are facing criminal charges in Berks County, Pennsylvania, you will find yourself facing several very important questions as you strategize how to handle your case. The chief among all these questions is whether you should go forward to a trial on your charges or accept a plea deal. If you decide to go to trial, finding a good trial attorney will be vital.

Why a Trial Lawyer is Important

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have experience at all stages of trial work and stand ready and willing to take your case all the way to trial. Whether to go to trial on criminal charges is an important and personal decision and depends on many factors. Getting good advice on whether you should go forward to trial rather than taking a deal that has been offered is an important part of this process.

A good trial attorney is willing to cross-examine the government’s witnesses, will effectively present your case in a way that is understandable to the jury, and can help you make the all-important decision on whether to testify or not. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys can help you with these questions. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Whether you are in the midst of criminal charges or are at the beginning of a criminal case, we welcome your call to discuss your charges. Your first consultation with us is free and totally confidential. Call us today and see how we can help you.

Attorney Crossett Represents Mail Carrier in Religious Liberty Case

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we believe the First Amendment defends each individual’s right to live freely according to their deeply held conscience and faith.

In a recent religious liberty case, Attorney David Crossett represented a Lancaster County mail carrier, Gerald Groff. Mr. Groff’s rights were violated when the USPS failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding working on Sundays.

In a recent news release, Attorney Crossett said:

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Read the full news release here.

To read more about the religious freedom case, we encourage you to take a look at recent news coverage:

If your religious liberties have been violated, we encourage you to call us today to discuss your case.

News Release: Christian Mail Carrier Discharged for Not Delivering Packages on Sunday Asks Federal Court for Judgment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 17, 2020
For interview requests or questions, contact: Dan Bartkowiak
717-657-4990, dbart@indlawcenter.org

(LANCASTER, PA – February 17, 2020) On Friday, February 14, a United States Postal Service (USPS) mailman filed a Motion for Summary Judgement before a federal district judge asking the court to find that the USPS violated his rights when it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding work on Sundays. 

Gerald Groff has been a mailman in Lancaster County for almost seven years. One Post Office supervisor called Mr. Groff his best employee. Another Post Office supervisor said that Mr. Groff had the best quality of work of anyone he had met in the USPS.

When he was hired, Sunday work was never required for Mr. Groff’s position.  Several years later, the USPS started parcel delivery on Sundays. For a time, the Post Office and Mr. Groff worked flexibly together to accommodate his religious convictions of not working on Sundays. Mr. Groff simply picked up holiday, evening, and Saturday hours others did not want to work. 

Later, USPS began enforcing a no-exceptions Sunday policy on Mr. Groff and needlessly disciplined him. This resulted in him being constructively discharged from the job he loved.

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said David Crossett, a partner at the Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Groff.

“Just as the Supreme Court recognized in a case involving the right of a Muslim worker to wear a head scarf at a clothing store, a government employer like the Post Office should reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The Post Office had plenty of other options for delivering Amazon packages on Sundays without making this employee violate his religious conscience,” said Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center. “In a free society, government employers can and should do better at respecting their employees’ rights.”

The case, Groff v. Brennan, is filed before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Writ of Summons

If you’ve been served with a Writ of Summons in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania or, in any other county in Pennsylvania for that matter, it’s extremely important that you do not ignore it. A Writ of Summons is the beginning of a lawsuit, and it takes care of one of the most difficult and important parts of the process—serving the lawsuit.

In other words, as a Defendant, you’re not going to get another notice about this lawsuit served through official means, such as a sheriff. From now on, everything you get is going to come through the mail. You don’t want to risk receiving this mail while you’re out of town, on vacation, or dealing with the other busy details of life that might keep you distracted.

Pennsylvania Summons
A Writ of Summons is an alternate form of original process in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What to Do

When you’re served with a Writ of Summons, the first thing to do is to immediately take action to insist that the Plaintiff file a Complaint substantiating their right to a lawsuit. Their failure to do so can result in a complete dismissal of the charges.

What happens if you don’t know what the charges are based on? What happens if you don’t even know the person suing you? Surprisingly, this happens to many defendants.

Regardless, you should still take action to force a Complaint right away. This gives you the chance to gather evidence, prepare your defense, and hopefully push the Plaintiff into a position where the case can be settled or dismissed.

Take Next Steps

The Writ of Summons is part of Pennsylvania’s very complex Rules of Civil Procedure. Failure to abide by the Rules of Civil Procedure can result in very serious waivers of your rights. Contacting a civil litigation attorney is an important first step in the process. Litigation lawyers can help you figure out the rights steps to take in the process.

Contact us at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your Writ of Summons in Pennsylvania and to see how we can help you navigate the process.

Oley Valley Students Settle First Amendment Lawsuit

Every American has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. That’s why Cornerstone Law Firm is glad to announce that our clients, three students in the Oley Valley School District, have had their voices heard in their recently settled lawsuit.

We worked with the students to bring a lawsuit against Oley Valley School District for violating their First Amendment rights. The case has now settled for $5,000 for the students plus attorneys’ fees and expungement of the discipline resulting from their school board speech.

Oley Valley School District students (from left to right) Vinny Ferrizzi, Haley Hartline and Jordan Eck practicing their First Amendment rights

What Happened

Jordan Eck, Haley Hartline and Vinny Ferrizzi were disciplined for speaking at a school board meeting last March, where they expressed concerns about the way the drama program was being run. Within 24 hours of speaking to the school board, two of the students were suspended and removed from the school play, and less than two weeks later, the third was removed from school property in front of his classmates. Various excuses for this retaliation were offered throughout the lawsuit, but upon production of surveillance footage demonstrating the pretextual nature of these excuses, the parties finally agreed to settle.

The monetary settlement reimburses the students’ families for the expense of litigation and will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier. The settlement also includes compensation for Jordan for the defamation of his character by the drama program director in a series of emails to the parents of other students in the drama program, as well as others in the community. All three students will receive compensation from the district’s insurance carrier for the violation of their rights to free speech.

What They Have to Say

The students expressed their relief that the case is over. “This is a victory for our First Amendment rights, and for the rights of other students to speak freely without fear of retribution,” said Eck after the settlement was reached.

“It shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit to force the School District to respect our right to speak,” said Hartline.

Ferrizzi agrees: “We wanted an apology, but it’s clear that this will have to do. This is vindication.”

“The First Amendment was written to protect us; but sometimes, we have to protect the First Amendment,” said Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready, the students’ attorney. “When government officials, however major or minor, seek to punish citizens for their speech, it is imperative that we stand up against that.”

Attorney Ready believes the lawsuit has bigger implications beyond these three students, and beyond Oley Valley:

“This case would have created a chilling effect on other students right to speak up, and I hope the message is loud and clear: as a student, you’re allowed to respectfully express your opinion to those in power, even if your opinion is unpopular.”

How it Started

The case began when Cornerstone Law Firm reached out to the School Board on behalf of the students, demanding that their discipline be expunged. The School Board refused reverse the punishments, necessitating rising costs, and ultimately, this settlement. Attorney Ready says he expects this case will have a positive impact on the School District:

“My clients hope this will cause the Oley Valley School Board to take definite steps to train their employees about protecting students’ rights. The Supreme Court says that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. That is especially true when students speak to school board members—their elected representatives.”

Various messages of both support and opposition have been received on social media by the students, but Eck explains, “From the beginning, we understood that was part of it. We just want every student to be able to speak freely, just like we did.” Ready agrees.

“I’m proud of these three students,” he said. “They’ve shown courage in the community, sometimes in the face of misinformation intentionally spread about them. They’ve shown Oley Valley how important free speech really is.” The Court issued a “Rule 41 Order” last week, and the students and district signed a final agreement today.

Student Statement Posted on Social Media Today

The three students released posts on social media today. The post is as follows:

“We were each disciplined by OVSD last year after we spoke at a school board meeting and expressed concerns about the individual overseeing the drama program. While anyone has a right to agree or disagree with what we said, no one had a right to blast out an email to the community defaming Jordan, claiming he “posted something against another student” such that the “police were called in” to deal with him. No one had a right to suspend Jordan and Haley and remove them from the school show for their speeches that night, and no one had a right to have Vinny escorted off of school property in front of our classmates. These actions were hurtful, and were done to retaliate against us for speaking an unpopular opinion to our elected officials.

As of this week, our disciplinary records related to this incident will be expunged, Jordan will be retroactively restored to his role as drama club President, and we will receive $100,000, which will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier—not by taxpayers. Most of this is merely to reimburse us the cost of bringing a federal suit. A nominal amount will pay for Jordan’s defamation claim, and all three of us will receive a small amount for the violation of our right to free speech.

The expense and stress of this lawsuit should have been unnecessary. Last March, Joel Ready, our attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm, sent a letter to the School District demanding that this matter be resolved by expunging discipline related to this incident, and that a small amount be paid to cover the attorneys’ fees we had incurred up till then. The School District preferred to fight about this instead, and finally was forced to settle on the eve of trial.

It’s really important to the three of us that all of our classmates hear this message loud and clear: no one can silence you just because you are a student. You’re a citizen of the United States, and when you speak as we did—calmly, respectfully, in the forum set up for public comment—the government and its officials do not have the right to retaliate against you.

We hope this case will give other students courage to speak up for themselves, and to speak against what they see as wrong. We’re grateful for those of you who have supported us along the way, and to those of you who haven’t, we hope you’ll keep all of this in consideration with an open mind and continue to dialogue with us. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”

Contact Us

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Default Judgment

When you fail to respond to a lawsuit filed against you, the court will grant the other party whatever relief they were seeking in their Complaint. This is known as a “default judgment.” In this post, we’ll discuss default judgments, and what you can do if you’ve found yourself dealing with one.

How Defaults Occur

When you’ve been served with a lawsuit, you typically have about thirty days to respond to that lawsuit (although this time varies depending on whether you are in state or federal court). If you don’t respond during that time, judgment will be entered against you in the amount of money claimed in the Complaint.

So, for example, if the complaint asked for $100,000, and you declined to answer, the court will assume that you had no problem with a $100,000 judgment entered against you. Admittedly, this is unlikely with a number that high, but there are plenty of times that someone may not really care about a complaint against them, because they figure the judgment is too small to fight about. They would rather give up, pay the amount to the person that holds the judgment, and move on with life.

The more common reason for a default judgment, however, is that the Defendant never learned of the lawsuit. For example, in some cases, the lawsuit may not have been properly served. In a common example in Pennsylvania, the person may have been served with a “Writ of Summons” which merely told them they were being sued but did not tell the Defendant what they were being sued for.

Unfortunately, many people allow these to simply sit around for a long time. One day, the Plaintiff mails the Defendant a Complaint or, in some cases, doesn’t mail it and claims that they did, and a default judgment is entered. The default judgment acts just like any other judgment. Once entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious and important problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When the judgment is entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When No Money is Claimed

Many Complaints never state a claim for a precise amount of damages, however. There is no rule requiring that a Plaintiff calculate their precise damages when they file a suit. Many times, damages are determined during the course of discovery and trial.

Accordingly, most Complaints are filed without a specific claim for the amount of damages at issue. In this case, the Court will award judgment on liability, and then will set a trial for damages. Discovery and other processes will ensue to aid the parties in determining exactly how much is claimed.

Conclusion: Don’t Sit on a Default Judgment

If a default judgment has been entered against you, don’t ignore it. You may be able to move to have the judgment re-opened. In other cases, you may be able to limit the amount of damages, even if the default is irreversible. What you should not do is wait.

Contact an attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your case.

Defendant Not Guilty on Aggravated Assault Charges in Berks County Court of Common Pleas

Last week, on May 21st and 22nd, Attorney Joel Ready defended an individual accused of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon in a case arising out of an incident in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

The two-day trial involved nine witness’ testimonies and resulted in a favorable determination of Not Guilty to all six charges.

The Case

court of common pleas
Berks County Court of Common Pleas

The charges against the Defendant arose out of an alleged pitchfork attack in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. The Defendant faced aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment of another person and terroristic threats. After approximately an hour of jury deliberations, the Not Guilty determination was entered for the Defendant. The case was heard in front of Judge Paul M. Yatron in the Court of Common Pleas in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“We are delighted at the outcome on behalf of our client,” says Joel Ready. “We are glad that Omar was completely vindicated in regards to these charges.”

Call Cornerstone Law Firm

Results for one client are not necessarily an indication of how your case would come out, of course, and nothing in this blog can be seen as a guarantee of anything in a different case.

But if you’ve been charged with a crime, call Cornerstone Law Firm, so that our trial attorneys can help you determine how best to defend your case.