Court’s Verdict: Stuffed Dog An Illegal Sign

Colleen Moeller stands outside East Hampton Town Justice Court with her stuffed dog “Happy,” which became an illegal sign of advertising placed outside her Park Place store.

There was a split decision in the case of the East Hampton Village store owner who had a stuffed dog with a welcome sign around its neck outside her shop on Park Place. In a verdict written on February 28 and shared via fax on Monday, East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana found the owner of Petit Blue, Colleen Moeller, not guilty of illegally displaying merchandise outside the entrance to her store on Park Place, but guilty of violating East Hampton Village zoning code regarding signage.

A code enforcement officer for the village, Robert Jahoda, wrote the charges up against Moeller on November 8. Moeller’s attorney, Daniel Rodgers, did not dispute certain facts in the case, including that Moeller had placed two large plush stuffed dogs outside her toy store, along with a chalkboard for children to write on. On one of the stuffed animals, a Golden Retriever that Moeller said during her testimony was named “Happy” by her daughter, had a wooden welcome sign around his neck.

Rodgers did dispute, and Moeller affirmed in her testimony during the trial, which lasted a bit over an hour, that neither of the stuffed dogs outside the shop were for sale. Rana agreed.

Moeller also told the court that she had placed the dogs outside the shop because, during the offseason, so many stores in the village are closed that she wanted to show hers was open.

Rana found the placement of the dogs on the stairwell to the shop with the sign hanging on one “was to attract the attention of the public,” and therefore was not allowed under the village code, which, she wrote, prohibits such signage or advertising structure.

Rodgers said in an email that the sign section of the code was crafted over a century ago.

“Over a century later, particularly with competition from online retailers, this law related to brick-and-mortar business ‘attracting the attention of the public’ seems entirely inappropriate, meaningless, and mean-spirited,” he said.

Sentencing, which could include a fine of up to $500, and, theoretically, a jail sentence of 15 days, will take place on March 16.

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