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Judge Rules for Township in Catholic Shop Case

An Upper Moreland Township official said the store owner faces $500 per day fines for failure to remove 'The Catholic Shop of Willow Grove' sign.

Willow Grove district judge Jay Friedenberg ruled in favor of Upper Moreland Township with regard to this sign. Credit: Theresa Katalinas
Willow Grove district judge Jay Friedenberg ruled in favor of Upper Moreland Township with regard to this sign. Credit: Theresa Katalinas
Upper Moreland Township received the judgment its attorney says was needed to begin charging St. Jude Religious Store a $500 per day fine for failure to remove a sign.

Following last week's civil action hearing, Willow Grove District Judge Jay Friedenberg on Wednesday found in favor of Upper Moreland Township and awarded a $500 civil judgment plus $171.40 in filing fees.

That's the amount that Russ Davis, St. Jude Stores president, must pay to the township. From his perspective, the case is done and over with.

"The judge did not tell us to take the sign down," Davis told Patch on Monday. "We just want to be left alone to run our business."

But, township attorney Kate Harper said a district judge does not have the power to order someone to remove a sign.

Rather, with Friedenberg's judgment, the township now has the authority to begin assessing a $500 per day fine against Davis for every day he fails to remove the sign beyond the first five days after judgment.

"If he doesn’t take it down it’ll be $500 a day," Harper told Patch, adding that the township would "give him a chance to take the sign down."

Friedenberg hand-wrote on the township's copy of the judgment that "defendants did not have a good faith basis to believe that there was no violation of township ordinance."

The township has maintained that Davis received a permit to install a sign at 125 York Road–where his store is located–but instead placed a sign at 133 York Road, which officials contend is township property.

Since the sign went up in December adjacent to memorial park, Davis has received notices from the township requesting that he either remove the sign, or submit an application to the zoning hearing board to determine if it could legally remain. 

Davis, according to both sides, did neither, prompting last week's court hearing.

Now, if Davis still refuses to remove the sign, Harper said the township would take its fight to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

"The township gave this gentleman every possible chance to voluntarily comply with the zoning code and he chose not to," Harper said. 

Davis' attorney, Caroline Achey Edwards, said she and Davis are "considering" an appeal, which they have 30 days to file. 

Davis, who claims to have the signatures of 14,000 Upper Moreland Township residents backing him on a petition, characterized the township as having "bullied" and "intimidated" him. 

"The township has the unlimited funds of taxpayer money" to continue the fight, Davis said. 

Harper, who doubted Davis actually had that many signatures and all from township residents, said decisions are not a matter of "popularity" anyway.

"We have to treat everyone the same in the face of the law," Harper said. "In America we’re a nation of laws, not of men."

As for how the legal fight is being fought, Harper confirmed that taxpayers "certainly are" covering the expense. 

"That’s why the law gives us the power to get those fees reimbursed," Harper said, noting that she could not provide a total cost spent so far. 

When asked if it would be simpler to hire a contractor to remove the Catholic Shop sign, Harper said, "I don’t know whether I would counsel the commissioners to do that."

Sarah K. July 24, 2013 at 08:37 PM
What do they want to put there so badly that they need the tax payers to foot the bill for this seemingly ridiculous time waster?
Mary AGB July 25, 2013 at 04:33 PM
I can't believe you took off my post. There was nothing bad in it. I guess freedom to speak (nicely) is now in Willow Grove. UM township stop belly-aching. Leave this man alone. If you are going to make him take down the sign, then you should hire an artist and make a Giant Murial on that side of the building.
Mary AGB July 25, 2013 at 04:35 PM
I made a mistake in one of my sentences: I guess lack of freedom to speak (nicely) now exists in Willow Grove.
Theresa Katalinas July 25, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Mary, No one intentionally deleted your comment. Comments sometimes get caught in the site's spam detector. I see two comments from you. Are there others that were lost?
Mary AGB July 26, 2013 at 07:08 PM
Dear Theresa, Thank you for writing to me. I did post a message (I think I was the original 3rd one). It was about leaving the Catholic Shop alone. They are trying to make a living with products that aren't purchased too often, except when there is a Holy Communion, Christening, Confirmation, Weddings and other types of religious needs. Then a man wrote a post with a sarcastic tone saying: Is This Where I Buy Catholics? I responded to him nicely, not rudely, that he could purchase Catholic items there such as, holy cards, rosaries, etc. and I suggested that he should stop in there sometime and look around. That was it. The next time I came on here is when I noticed not only my post was removed, but his post was removed too. It is uncomfortable sometimes for me to write on these posts, but I like to give it a try. It makes you feel that you can have a say about things important to you. Thanks again Theresa for your concern. Mary

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