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Laurence Tribe v. City of Los Angeles

It looks like the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office may have its hands full on June 4 when it goes up against leading First Amendment attorney Laurence Tribe in the case Metro Lights v. City of Los Angeles.

Tribe, who is nationally recognized as one of the foremost liberal constitutional law scholars and Supreme Court practitioners, is in town from his lucrative gig as a consultant to the international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to give oral arguments in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Tribe was brought in at the last minute to defend the billboard company against the city.

Tribe told the Weekly in an email that the reason why he agreed to take the case is “because I think the LA ordinance is a serious threat to the First Amendment and needs to be decisively invalidated.”

Tribe arguing the case could spell disaster for the City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Delgadillo’s office isn’t exactly known lately for its great U.S. Supreme Court (or Superior Court) triumphs. Harvard Law School Professor Tribe, on the other hand, has successfully gone before the US Supreme Court over 17 times.

In addition to Tribe’s First Amendment wins, he authored American Constitutional Law (1978), the most commonly cited work in that field, and in 2001 he co-founded the liberal American Constitution Society supposedly to counterweight the conservative Federalist Society.

Tribe is also the official legal advisor to the Barack Obama campaign. His most infamous case is Gore v. Bush in 2000.

The City Attorney’s Office is hoping to overthrow a 2006 federal judge’s ruling that its “Street Furniture” program is unconstitutional.

In 2001, six months before City Hall erected a blanket ban on all new billboards, the city entered into a contract with CBS Decaux, which gave the advertising company a lucrative contract to sell and display advertising on bus shelters and kiosks. In return, the city would receive $150 million over the 20-year-term of the agreement.

Instead, the contract opened up a Pandora's box of litigation. It didn't take long before Metro Lights “movie poster” style signs that looked similar in size and shape to the cities “street furniture” started popping up.

In 2003, the city began citing the company for illegally erecting billboards. Metro Lights filed a federal lawsuit against the city arguing that it was unfair that the city could make money off its 3,300 street furniture program, tens of thousands of street banners and countless wall signs, murals and super graphics on public property but forbid similar advertising on private property. A judge agreed.

Since the 2006 federal ruling, a handful of other federal and state claims have been filed challenging the cities “street furniture' program.

Oral arguments will be heard on Wednesday at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena at 9 am.

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