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VOL. 36 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 09, 2012

Homeless newspaper loses Brentwood lawsuit

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NASHVILLE (AP) - The Contributor, a newspaper written by and sold by homeless and formerly homeless, is celebrating its fifth anniversary, but one Nashville suburb has won a federal lawsuit that prevents their street vendors from selling to motorists.

The newspaper is sold by hundreds of vendors on street corners to drivers and pedestrians in and around Nashville. In celebration of their fifth anniversary, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and the paper's staff, volunteers and supporters were gathering at the Downtown Presbyterian Church on Wednesday.

But a federal judge on Tuesday dismissed the newspaper's case against the city of Brentwood, a wealthy suburb in Williamson County, after granting the city's motion for summary judgment.

The Contributor filed the lawsuit last year after some of their vendors were cited in Brentwood for selling newspapers to motorists stopped in the street or at traffic lights.

The vendors were cited under a previous city ordinance that stated no one could stand in city streets or public sidewalks to sell any goods or materials.

Brentwood city attorney Roger Horner said the ordinance was revised in July of 2011, but still prohibits people standing in the streets or sidewalks from selling material or soliciting people in cars.

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell ruled that the revised ordinance does not violate constitutional rights to free speech because the ordinance is based on public safety concerns and does not specifically target The Contributor.

"It was not adopted because of disagreement with the message of The Contributor; it was adopted in response to valid concerns about the unconstitutionality of the old ordinance," Campbell wrote in his Oct. 29 ruling. "It was adopted for legitimate reasons (public safety, traffic safety and traffic flow), separate from the content or viewpoint of The Contributor."

Irwin Venick, a Nashville attorney representin g The Contributor, said Wednesday that they are still deciding whether to appeal the ruling.

Venick said the newspaper's method of distribution was meant to "promote face-to-face interaction between homeless or formerly homeless vendors with the public."

He said while vendors could still sell their newspaper to pedestrians in the city, he noted, "There are very few sidewalks and few people who walk on sidewalks in Brentwood."