DuPage, state police won't enforce panhandling prohibition while lawsuit is pending

A state law prohibiting roadside panhandling won't be enforced by Illinois State Police and the DuPage County state's attorney's office until a federal lawsuit challenging the law is resolved.

Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons filed the lawsuit in August 2019 against state police Director Brendan Kelly, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and the village of Downers Grove. The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that they have the free-speech right to ask for help.

State police and the state's attorney office on Tuesday agreed to a preliminary injunction prohibiting them from enforcing a section of a state law that bars asking drivers for money for the duration of the litigation.

"For now, our clients and many others will be able to exercise their First Amendment right to ask for help without interference from the state police," said Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU, one of the lawyers in the case. "In the long term, we hope that the court agrees with us that this statute is unconstitutional and may not be enforced at all."

Officials with the DuPage state's attorney's office declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Dumiak and Simmons are being represented by the ACLU of Illinois, the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin.

The lawsuit was filed after Dumiak and Simmons were punished for panhandling in Downers Grove. The men stood on a raised median strip seeking donations from people in vehicles stopped at the intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads.

"All I want to do is to ask for help when I need it," Dumiak said in August. "I'm not blocking traffic or putting myself at risk - I'm just holding a cardboard sign."

Dumiak was cited twice; Simmons was cited five times in Downers Grove and once elsewhere in DuPage.

Their attorneys say the men were charged under an Illinois statute that makes it a misdemeanor to stand on a median to solicit contributions, employment, business or rides from passing vehicles.

The statute doesn't prohibit other interactions with drivers and passengers, such as gathering petition signatures or distributing leaflets, the lawyers said in a statement. In addition, municipalities can exempt certain charities from the law.

Downers Grove had a local law that mirrored the state law. But the village rescinded the ordinance shortly after it was named in the lawsuit.

"Our clients were ticketed for panhandling when it was cold outside and they needed money to seek shelter," Chicago Coalition for the Homeless community lawyer Diane O'Connell said in a statement. "They were charged fines they couldn't be expected to pay, and one had to spend a night in jail because of a ticket. We hope this will prevent others from being prosecuted for asking for help."

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