Criminal art

Erica Chappuis thought turning some recycled doors into artwork and positioning them to hide her ugly window air conditioner would improve both her home and neighborhood. The city of Grosse Pointe Park disagreed, claiming the display violated the suburb's sign ordinance. (See "Out of the Park," Nov. 14, 2007.)

Last week — nearly 11 months after holding a hearing on the case — Grosse Pointe Park Municipal Court Judge Carl Jarboe finally issued verdict: guilty.

However, although the home is jointly owned, only Chappuis' husband, Laurent, was charged. No one will say why it was her husband who is charged — chivalry, maybe? He could face jail time or fines or both when he is sentenced Nov. 5. The length of time and amount of possible fine are unclear, says his attorney, William Burdette.

Under the city's zoning ordinance, Jarboe ruled, paintings may be considered illustrations or displays under the definition of a sign.

"The evidence at trial was undisputed that the defendant had not applied for a sign permit and that a permit had not been issued," Jarboe wrote.

The Chappuises maintain the artwork is speech and expression that is protected by the U.S. Constitution. "This case involved the fundamental freedom to express yourself on your own property," says Burdette, who promises an appeal in Wayne County Circuit Court.

"We'll pursue this matter as long as necessary," he says. "The record established at trial indicates that Grosse Pointe Park makes no accommodation for the display of painting on personal property, and this rigid position is not supported by the law."

Assistant City Attorney Alicia Chandler declined to comment.

Erica Chappuis, obviously, was disappointed with Jarboe's decision.

"I'd hoped that the judge and the city could have seen the difference between my fine art paintings and the signs they are trying to control," she says. "The decision effectively means that we will be the only people in Grosse Pointe Park who are denied our right to free speech. All the other citizens of our city can put up large and elaborate holiday decorations, campaign signs, very large lawn sculptures, decorative banners and such, with no time limits imposed and no permit needed. Only we are to remain silent, visually."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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