Resident wins free-speech lawsuit against city and its mayor

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Olmsted Falls resident Scott Solarz’s “Fire Fighters and Veterans against ‘NO HONOR’ Mayor Graven” sign led to a $5,000 judgement from the city. (Photo courtesy of Scott Solarz)

When an Ohio mayor got angry about a yard sign and tried to get the homeowner in trouble with his employer — the local fire department — the homeowner fought back and has now won a $5,000 judgment.

Adding to the resident’s free-speech victory, he gets to keep his sign up.

According to cleveland.com, Olmstead Falls, Ohio resident Scott Solarz last year filed a lawsuit against the town’s mayor, James Graven, and the city claiming his First Amendment rights were violated. This was after the mayor became incensed that Solarz had posted a sign reading “Fire Fighters and Veterans against ‘NO HONOR’ Mayor Graven” in his yard when a dispute about a city building inspection did not go in Solarz’s favor.

According to Solarz’s attorney, Jared S. Klebanow, the angry mayor e-mailed Rocky River Fire Chief Aaron Lenart and cc’d Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst in hopes of putting pressure on Solarz and getting the signs taken down.

Solarz initially took his sign down, but it reappeared around the time he filed his lawsuit.

“Just because you’re a mayor of the city doesn’t mean you’re immune for your actions,” said Solarz, who has lived in Olmsted Falls since 2016. “He kept saying, ‘I have government immunity’ for any of my actions. The mayor did this all to himself, and I wasn’t going to be bullied by him.

“I would have been more than happy to settle things calmly, but the things he did gave me no choice.”

The entire legal matter in Senior United States District Judge Christopher Boyko’s courtroom cost the city an insurance deductible of $25,000, which Olmsted Falls Law Director Andrew Bemer said included both Solarz’s and the city’s legal expenses, as well as the judgment.

Graven denied any wrongdoing.

The acrimony between Solarz and Graven started four years ago over a city inspector dispute related to his new home.

“The most disappointing thing to me is when he showed up to my house on a Friday afternoon when I wasn’t home and my 15-year-old daughter answered the door,” Solarz said.

“The mayor was clearly, visibly irritated by the sign. You don’t do that. The second thing that bothered me the most was the harassment in my workplace.”

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