Quick review denied in mural case

The state Court of Appeals will be the next stop for the Inland Octopus case.

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WALLA WALLA -- The state Supreme Court has decided not to review directly Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff's appeal of a local judge's decision allowing the city of Walla Walla to enforce its sign regulations.

Catsiff had asked for the direct review, but the high court declined Monday.

The ruling means the appeal will go forward, but will be decided in the more-usual fashion by being reviewed -- at least at first -- by the lower-level Court of Appeals based in Spokane. Once that court reaches a decision, the losing side then could ask the state Supreme Court to consider the matter.

Legal briefs now will be transferred to the Court of Appeals for its ruling, which could take six months to a year to reach.

Meanwhile, the city is allowing the mural to stay in place, however $100-a-day fines against Catsiff that began Oct. 14, 2010 -- which currently amount to nearly $40,000 -- will continue accruing. Catsiff will have to pay if the city ultimately prevails.

He is appealing Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht's ruling in a lawsuit Catsiff filed against the city in an attempt to keep the giant purple octopus mural above the entrance to his leased toy store at 7 E. Main St. The mural is too large for a wall sign under provisions of the city code.

Schacht signed his formal judgment June 1, finding that the city's wall-sign size and height restrictions and permitting requirements are constitutional, valid and enforceable. Schacht ruled Catsiff failed to prove the city sign code is unconstitutional.

Catsiff commissioned the painting of the mural Labor Day weekend 2010. He didn't have a permit and the city ultimately ordered him to remove the mural or otherwise bring it into compliance with the sign code.

Catsiff appealed to Schacht, claiming the sign code infringes on his right of free speech, is overbroad and vague.

Schacht denied and dismissed those claims.

The state Supreme Court accepts direct review based on a narrow set of criteria, two of which Catsiff's attorney, Michael de Grasse argued exist in the Catsiff case.

De Grasse said in an interview Tuesday he maintained that some conflicts and inconsistencies exist in prior Supreme Court rulings, and that the case is of broad public importance that requires prompt and ultimate determination.

City Attorney Tim Donaldson told the Union-Bulletin he didn't go along with all of the grounds de Grasse argued, but didn't object to the state Supreme Court accepting direct review.

Both attorneys caution against trying to analyze the high court's ruling.

De Grasse said he isn't disappointed, adding, "I honestly do not know how to assess the import of this decision."

Donaldson agreed that no one should try to read anything into it.

"It doesn't mean (state Supreme Court justices) rejected what (de Grasse) argued. It just means they aren't going to accept it right now," Donaldson said.

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

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