LAKE GEORGE Village officials and the owners of the Dilligaf stores have called a truce.
As long as the merchandise deemed offensive is kept out of the storefront window displays, the proposed obscenity law will stay on the shelf, according to lawyers for both sides.
In December, after years of legal research, the village unveiled a proposed law to restrict the display of such merchandise in store windows in certain areas of the village. It was aimed at Dilligaf — an acronym for “Do I look like I give a f—-?” The business has two storefronts on Canada Street that sell the brand’s clothing and other items.
The six-page proposal was a law to regulate the public display of “child-inappropriate materials” in the village. It proposed restricting the commercial display of “child-inappropriate material” within 200 feet of the boundary of any municipal venue, park, school or house of worship.
The 200-foot limit was chosen because it is the distance from which a poster-size display would be visible to a person with normal vision, according to the draft.
The proposal included lengthy legal definitions for “indecent,” “obscene” and “profane” material and restricted where such “child-inappropriate materials” could be commercially displayed.
In an initial interview right after the proposed law was unveiled, Dilligaf owner William Massry said he was prepared to challenge it, but soon afterward, the merchandise deemed offensive was removed from his storefront window displays. Cameron Stracher, a lawyer out of New York City and Connecticut with extensive experience with First Amendment cases, was retained for the case.
Mayor Robert Blais said the stores are a partnership between Massry and three family members. He said he had spoken to Massry’s brother-in-law, who told him they removed all offensive material from the displays visible from the sidewalk and would keep them out of the windows come tourist season.
“I take him at his word,” Blais said. “I’ll give the family credit. Perhaps they didn’t realize there were so many people in our community that were disturbed by it.”
Stracher said his clients issued this statement when asked why they decided to acquiesce to the village’s request now:
“We respect and appreciate the village of Lake George and hope to continue to work with the other merchants and business people in the area to provide a safe, pleasant environment for all to enjoy.”
Stracher and village attorney Jeffrey Meyer said they had follow-up conversations after Stracher sent a letter to Meyer, detailing why he thought the proposed law was unconstitutional, and they came to the informal agreement shortly before Christmas.
Stracher said the objectionable merchandise had already voluntarily been removed by his clients by the time he was retained.
“Dilligaf will keep the T-shirts they (the village) objected to out of the windows, as they have done, and the village will not be pursuing or trying to pursue passing the legislation, which I’ve argued is unconstitutional,” Stracher said. “We’ve both agreed to play nice and be cooperative.”
There is no agreement in writing, and anything in writing would be unenforceable, Meyer said.
“Everyone just agreed the village would be best served and his clients would be best served by removing the offending materials from the windows, which they did voluntarily. Because of that, the village essentially tabled the local law indefinitely,” Meyer said.
Blais and the village fielded numerous complaints about the merchandise over the years, with several complainants asking why the village wasn’t “doing anything” about the stores, the mayor said.
“They’ll know we did the very best we could to accomplish our goal. The worst part for me was receiving letters from people who were here, telephone calls, emails, and meeting people that would say, ‘Why aren’t you doing something about that?’ I had a full understanding of the Constitution and freedom of speech and understood how difficult and lengthy a process it might be to try to do something about it. So now at least the people will know we were working on it for the past 3 1/2 years ... we did not want to put forth a law we felt would be frivolous and would not stand up. We did not want to spend the village’s money frivolously, but we were determined we were going to do something about it.”
On Monday, the village honored lawyer Ed Pontacoloni with an award. He worked for free, helping to draft the proposed law.