RICHMOND, Va. -– West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro dropped his appeal of a court order allowing Constitution Party members to solicit signatures on petitions in state parks.
Jezioro no longer will resist a decision of U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey, who ruled in June that state law banning solicitation in parks violated the U.S. Constitution.
"It is a relief to know that we have this on our side, and we will be taking copies to give out with our leaflets," State party chairman Jeff Becker said Wednesday.
Becker and Denzil Sloan sued Jezioro after rangers chased them away from National Hunting and Fishing Days at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park in 2007.
Jezioro argued that they should have applied for a permit like other exhibitors.
Bailey ruled that no one needs a permit to solicit in any state park on any day.
He didn't disturb the law's ban on hawking and peddling in state parks.
For Jezioro, attorney Keith Gamble of Morgantown set out to reverse Bailey at the Fourth District appeals court in Richmond.
Meanwhile in Bailey's court, Gamble argued that Jezioro might continue restricting the party under authority from other parts of the law.
Bailey practically dared Jezioro to try it.
He wrote on Aug. 31 that "a statute which grants unbridled discretion to a government official to deny permits to engage in First Amendment expression in a public forum, and which contains no objective standards from which to review any permit denials is an unconstitutional prior restraint on First Amendment expression."
He wrote, "What defendants choose to do with that information is up to them."
On Sept. 22, Jezioro chose to give up.
"The wheels of justice turn slowly," Becker said. "This has been a learning experience for all of us."
He said that in 2007, he circulated petitions for an hour at Stonewall Jackson Lake until he approached a man wearing a dark polo shirt.
Becker said he asked the man to sign, not knowing he was a park ranger.
Jezioro would claim in the course of the suit that Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater Canyon, first complained about the petitions.
"That's not what started the thing," Becker said. "They were piling on, pulling out all the stops trying to find witnesses."
He said police intimidate party members statewide.
"We have them tell us to cross the street at an event so we can't talk to people," he said. "One said, don't put your foot on the grass between the sidewalk and the street."
He said, "It has been a nightmare for us as far as intimidation and standing up for our rights, all over the state."
He said the public is pleasant and glad to sign.
"People in West Virginia want more choice," he said.
Douglas McKusick of the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va., represented the party in association with Joseph Wallace and son John Wallace of Elkins.
Bailey awarded legal fees to the party. He ordered Jezioro to pay $18,437.50 to McKusick, $17,157 to Joseph Wallace, and $2,175 to John Wallace.