HART — In a consent judgement and order signed July 6, 2021, United States District Judge Paul L. Maloney stipulated that plaintiff Margaret Wittman’s First Amendment right to Free Speech and Religious Exercise and her 14th Amendment right to Equal Protection were violated, Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020 when she was asked by then City Clerk Cheryl Rabe to cover a T-shirt she was wearing with the message, “My heart will Trust in you Jesus, Proverbs 3:5-6”.
As a result of the judgement Wittman will receive damages in the amount of $81.75, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $10,500.
“We are quite pleased that the City of Hart admitted that they violated my civil rights in their actions towards me on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Since they admitted they were wrong, we were able to obtain this Judgment sooner rather than later. This is not a settlement,” said Wittman. “The $81.75, represents $78.75 in wages not paid to me as a contracted election worker that day and also $3 dollars representing vindication of the three times in which the City of Hart violated my rights under the 1st and 14th amendments. The amount of $10,500 is to be paid to the law firm that represented me, Great Lakes Justice Center, which is only about a third of the amount they have invested in this case. Unfortunately, the city’s insurance company is demanding that only one check be issued and that it be made payable to me, and then I pay the attorney fees. It has never been about money to me, and I have asked repeatedly for the check to be made payable to Great Lakes Justice Center. To date, no money has been received by myself or the law firm.”
As reported in the Nov. 19, 2020 issue of the Oceana’s Herald-Journal, after declining to change or cover up her shirt Nov. 3, Wittman was “relieved of her duties” and instructed to speak with then city Manager Lynne Ladner. Ladner explained to Wittman that the shirt was considered political speech, and it could not be worn while working the voting polls. The opinion had been solidified by the city’s attorney Mark VanAllsburg, who Wittman spoke with directly stating her shirt was considered “political speech.” Rather than leaving the voting precinct, Wittman remained at the polls and observed from the public viewing area for the remainder of the day until the building closed at 12 a.m. “After the incident, I was connected with the Great Lakes Justice Center, a non-profit group who represents individuals when the government oversteps their boundaries. Shame on me for not knowing the Constitution better. I’m using this situation and other situations that have arisen since, to help educate others about our rights under the Constitution. This is bigger than my experience with last November’s elections. I believe ‘We the people’ are being wronged by those wanting to take our government in a different direction,” said Wittman.Oceana’s Herald-Journal reached out to the City of Hart for comment.
“The City of Hart staff and elected officials work diligently to serve our community in the best way possible,” said new city Manager Rob Splane. “In The City of Hart’s Charter, the Preamble states: ‘We, the people of the City of Hart, Oceana County, Mich., in order to secure the benefits of efficient self-government and to promote and protect our common interests and welfare, do ordain and establish this Home Rule Charter for the government of our city.’ As a community, I believe we all need to work together and strive to promote and protect our common interests and welfare. It was our charge on Aug. 12, 1947, and it still is today.”
Since the Nov. 3, 2020 election, the City of Hart has instituted a uniform policy for all poll workers involved in future elections. The policy is available by contacting the city or visiting its website at www.cityofhart.org.