Lawsuit challenges DMV’s rejection of personalized license plate

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) –  A Los Angeles man is taking on the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Jonathan Kotler’s application for a personalized license plate was rejected and Kotler is suing the DMV, claiming that his rights to free speech were violated.

The 73-year-old Kotler is a hard-core fan of the English soccer team, known as the “Whites.” Fans of the Fulham football club, based in West London often chant “Come on you Whites.”

However, when Kotler asked for a personalized license plate that would abbreviate the slogan and read COYW, his application was denied. The DMV said the plate could be seen as hostile, insulting or raclally degrading.

In a random survey of people we met on the street, most did not have any idea of what the letters meant.

When we explained their significance, many people said they did not find it offensive or racist.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court last week, Kotler’s attorney argued that the government could not be the arbiter of what is acceptable or in good taste.

California law states that the plates must be turned down, if they “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

Kotler’s attorney said that the DMV cannot be given free rein to regulate free speech. Wen Fa, who is representing Kotler said that government regulation “has the potential to be applied in ways that are arbitrary, biased and flat-out wrong.”

Not all legal experts believe that regulation in this area is wrong.

San Diego attorney Jan Ronis, who is not connected to Kotler’s case said the impact of stripping away the DMV’s regulatory authority must be considered.

“If they don’t, then it may open the door to seemingly endless amounts of abbreviations which large groups of people may find offensive and evoke violent responses in the community,” Ronis said.

He said it would be hard to establish a middle ground between government regulation and no regulation at all.

“There’s only a middle ground if the courts are inclined to litigate every single application for questionable license plates. That is the middle ground but I don’t know if the courts want to burdened with that. I think it would be easier and perhaps, a constitutionally proper approach may be to just uphold the DMV’s right to regulate this kind of behavior,” Ronis said.

This is the first lawsuit since the 1970’s to challenge the DMV’s regulatory powers. KUSI contacted the agency with questions about Kotler’s license application.

A spokesperson said, “The DMV does not comment on pending lawsuits.”

Categories: California News, Local San Diego News