Ocean City has agreed not to enforce provisions in its town code that could be construed as violating the free-speech rights of street performers under a proposed consent decree filed in federal court Friday.
If a judge accepts the terms, writers, painters, performers, sculptors, musicians and others would be able to sell their works along the boardwalk without fear of interference by police. Those who sell manufactured goods such as candles, stuffed animals and sunglasses are not included in the protected class.
The proposal would settle a case filed against the beach town last summer by spray-paint artist Mark Chase, who claimed that restrictions along the famous three-mile boardwalk violate his constitutional rights.
He took specific exception to rules establishing registration requirements for performers and preventing sales. In September, U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander granted Chase a preliminary injunction, preventing Ocean City from enforcing many of the provisions.
The town has now agreed to make much of the judge's ruling permanent.
"The plaintiff and defendant desire to resolve this action without the time and expense of continued litigation," the proposed decree states.
Specifically, Ocean City officials have agreed not to enforce rules requiring licenses for performers, preventing price setting and barring sales of "expressive materials," as defined under the decree.
Chase has a separate case pending in Baltimore after being arrested for peddling without a permit in the Inner Harbor. A hearing in that case is set for mid-February.