U-B file photo:
Customers step out of Inland Octopus beneath the store's mutil-story artwork and on to Main Street in Walla Walla Thursday morning. After a legal battle toy store owner Bob Catsiff has lost his battle, challenging the constitutionality of the City of Walla Walla's sign code.
Matthew B. Zimmerman
WALLA WALLA -- The fate of the purple octopus will be up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Inland Octopus toy store owner Bob Catsiff has decided to ask the nation's highest court to review his legal setbacks in a last-ditch effort to keep the giant mural above his store at 7 E. Main St.
The city of Walla Walla ordered the mural to come down soon after it was painted in 2010, saying it is too large, therefore not in compliance with the city's sign code.
Catsiff filed suit, claiming the city's order violates his constitutional right of free speech.
But because a local judge ruled against Catsiff, then he lost a state Court of Appeals ruling and the state Supreme Court in October decided not to review his case, his only recourse was to consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.
His attorney, Michael de Grasse, said Monday that Catsiff decided to ask for the review because he "thinks he has a First Amendment right to have the art mural on the front of his store" and wants a definitive ruling.
De Grasse said he will file the request on Catsiff's behalf in early January. The high court might decide by spring whether to review the case, then it could take another year or year-and-a-half to rule if it accepts review.
If the court declines review, that will end the matter and the city can require Catsiff's mural be brought into compliance with the city's sign code.
City Attorney Tim Donaldson said in a recent interview the city intends to enforce sanctions against Catsiff if he ultimately loses.
Those will include abatement of the painting if Catsiff doesn't take action to do it.
Plus, the city will seek to collect the full amount of his fines. They have been accruing at the rate of $100 a day since Oct. 14, 2010, and now amount to about $76,000.
Last month, a five-judge panel of the state Supreme Court declined to review an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals in Spokane. That decision denied claims by Catsiff in the lawsuit he brought against the city.
The Appeals Court ruling rejected his contention that his constitutional free-speech rights are being restricted by the city's sign code. The panel said the city's size and placement restrictions are reasonable and based on legitimate government interests.
The ruling is an affirmation of one last year by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht, who initially rejected Catsiff's claims.
Catsiff commissioned the octopus painting at his leased toy store on 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 has agreed the painting is a wall sign by the city's definition.
At last report, the city has spent, out of pocket, a little more than $1,700 for travel, transcription and deposition costs related to the case.