WALLA WALLA — Get ready to say goodbye to the giant purple octopus as we know it.
The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a local toy store owner’s bid to keep the mural above his Main Street business.
The nation’s highest court decided not to review a Washington state Court of Appeals decision that allows the city of Walla Walla to enforce its sign ordinance.
Therefore, because Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff has exhausted appeals related to his 2010 lawsuit against the city, the city intends to enforce a hearing examiner’s order requiring that within 30 days of today the mural be brought into compliance with size and height restrictions, according to a news release signed by City Manager Nabiel Shawa.
That means it must be painted over or made smaller. If Catsiff doesn’t take the necessary steps, the city intends to paint over it at his expense.
Catsiff’s attorney, Michael de Grasse, said in an interview this morning he was “very disappointed” and Catsiff intends to fulfill his legal obligations.
However, de Grasse added that Catsiff may not have exhausted his appeals, after all.
De Grasse said he would have to talk with Catsiff, but he could decide to start a different legal action, claiming the city is engaging in unconstitutional selective enforcement of its sign code.
De Grasse mentioned numerous signs on downtown buildings that he said appear to be in violation of the ordinance.
The city won’t buy that argument, however, according to City Attorney Tim Donaldson.
When told this morning of the possibility of another appeal, Donaldson called such a consideration “meritless.”
“(Catsiff) had the opportunity when he filed his appeal to raise all of his arguments,” Donaldson said, adding that in an initial Walla Walla County Superior Court hearing on Catsiff’s lawsuit, de Grasse specifically denied making a claim of selective enforcement.
“Selective enforcement, selective prosecution is not claimed here,” de Grasse said, according to a transcript of the proceeding in April 2011.
“Bob Catsiff is not saying because you didn’t prosecute other violators, you can’t prosecute me.”
Shawa’s statement in his news release today says he tried to work with Catsiff soon after the hearing examiner issued his order in 2010, but Catsiff rebuffed his efforts.
Shawa wrote that he remains willing to assist if Catsiff takes corrective action, but won’t make a special exception for him.
The statement concludes: “The City will accept only full compliance, and I will proceed to take all necessary action to enforce the order if Mr. Catsiff’s refusal to comply persists.”
Fines that have accrued at the rate of $100 a day since Oct. 14, 2010, also will be imposed on Catsiff. They now amount to about $86,000.
Catsiff commissioned the octopus painting at his leased toy store at 7 E. Main St. on Labor Day weekend 2010. He didn’t have a permit and the city ultimately ordered him to remove the mural because it is too large or otherwise bring it into compliance with the sign code. Catsiff has agreed the painting is a wall sign by the city’s definition.
Catsiff sued, claiming the city’s order violates his constitutional right of free speech.
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision not to review the case is the last of a clean sweep of legal defeats for Catsiff.
In October, 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 in 2011 by then-Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht, who initially rejected Catsiff’s claims.
The city spent, out of pocket, about $2,800 for travel, transcription, filing and printing costs related to the case, according to Donaldson.
“I’m glad it’s done,” he said. “It’s been 2 1/2 years.”