Newspapers that deliver unwanted copies to homes in St. Charles may soon face trespassing complaints from the city's private property owners.
In response to a new flood of complaints to city officials, aldermen said Monday night they will begin encouraging residents to first document and give notice to newspapers to stop tossing copies onto their properties. If the distribution continues, city officials said they will tell residents to contact police and pursue trespassing complaints.
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St. Charles does have laws against littering and unwanted distribution of materials. But City Attorney Jerry Gorski said even publications that are predominantly advertising have special First Amendment protections. Gorski said recent case law shows municipalities that try to create laws specifically against unwanted newspapers fail in court every time.
"The First Amendment trumps everything," Gorski said. "The more effective way of dealing with this, maybe the only effective way, is having private homeowners proceed under the trespass act."
But Gorski suggested even that path has a loophole. A newspaper distributor could just begin tossing the papers on the public right of way and basically face no consequences, Gorski said.
"The courts see the public right of way as the quintessential public forum," Gorski said.
City officials said they still plan on notifying residents, via the city newsletter, that they can try bringing trespassing charges against newspapers if they really feel burdened by unwanted deliveries. City Administrator Brian Townsend said he's disappointed residents haven't been able to stop the deliveries just by contacting the newspaper companies.
"A little common courtesy and respect for residents' wishes would go a long way," Townsend said.