Octopus to get day in Walla Walla County Superior Court

A hearing has been set in the case of the giant, purple octopus mural downtown.

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WALLA WALLA -- A court hearing has been set in the lawsuit filed by a downtown toy store owner who's trying to save his giant, purple octopus mural on constitutional grounds.

The hearing before Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. April 19 at the County Courthouse. Both sides are expected to argue their positions in the case. Schacht may or may not rule at the time.

In the court appeal, Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff is asking Schacht to overturn a Walla Walla hearing examiner's decision in November affirming fines the city is assessing on Catsiff and requiring him to comply with the sign code if he loses his appeal.

Catsiff has agreed that the octopus painted on his storefront at 7 E. Main St. is a wall sign by the city's definition and contrary to city code because of its large size. But he claims the mural is a type of constitutionally protected artistic expression and therefore, the sign code imposing restrictions on the painting violates his constitutional right of free speech.

Through his attorney, Michael de Grasse, Catsiff is asking Schacht to declare the related ordinances void and that the city be enjoined from enforcing them. But City Attorney Tim Donaldson wants Schacht to deny the appeal and rule the ordinances are valid.

Meanwhile, the city has agreed not to enforce removal of the octopus painting pending a final resolution. But daily fines of $100 that began Oct. 14 continue to accrue -- amounting to about $14,000 so far -- and will be collected if the city ultimately wins.

The mural was painted on the storefront during the Labor Day weekend. Catsiff did not obtain a permit to have it painted or a permit to occupy the city right of way in the process. He also did not obtain a permit for an octopus and rainbow painting on the back of the building earlier in the year. He has been assessed $300 in one-time fines for those violations.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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