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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.

Judge Rules for Township in Catholic Shop Case Judge Rules for Township in Catholic Shop Case Judge Rules for Township in Catholic Shop Case
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."

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