2009-06-15

Noise ordinance challenge dismissed

The Georgia Supreme Court has voted to allow the noise ordinance challenge filed by University of Georgia students to stay dismissed. Robert Manlove and William Hoffman challenged the constitutionality Athens-Clarke County noise ordinance last year by filing suit in Clarke County Superior Court. However, the Supreme Court by a vote of four to three agreed with the county government that the students did not have the right to bring the suit because they had never been issued a citation. Manlove and Hoffman's attorney Charles A. Jones Jr. explained in a statement that "the Court did NOT uphold the Ordinance itself, only ruled that my clients were not the proper persons to challenge the ordinance." Jones believes that there may be another opportunity to challenge the ordinance by someone who does receive a ticket for violation.

Chief Justice Leah Sears wrote a lengthy dissent explaining why the threat of a citation should be sufficient harm to allow Manlove and Hoffman to allow their challenge to be heard in court. She also acknowledged that the Athens-Clarke ordinance has potential problems that could be considered by a court, pointing out that it prohibits sounds from being heard farther than five feet outside of an apartment at any time of the day, even though such a restriction does not apply to single-family homes and it applies downtown despite all the noise that is allowed there until late at night.

Many Athens residents have expressed the view that the challenge is frivolous and misplaced. For instance, the Athens Banner-Herald reported on January 25, 2008 that "The challenge 'defines a frivolous lawsuit,' Athens-Clarke Commissioner David Lynn said." To this view Jones said, "The issue was very close, and the fact that three Supreme Court Justices agreed with our position demonstrates that this case is not the 'definition of a frivolous lawsuit' as some have suggested."

I would like to point out that the legal challenge was not about whether a noise ordinance is constitutional at all; rather, it was about whether this noise ordinance is constitutional. I have compared the Athens-Clarke County noise ordinance to other noise ordinances, and it is unique. It is not the copy of an ordinance which has survived a challenge. It has unique and restrictive rules as well vague terms, problems that other noise ordinances do not have. Our community's proper response to the challenge brought by Manlove and Hoffman is to acknowledge the ordinance's defects and urge the Mayor and Commission to replace it with a more clear and sensible ordinance.

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