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Boardwalk Acts Rail Against New Regulations

BALTIMORE (CN) - New boardwalk regulations in Ocean City, Md., have drawn objections in federal court from a face painter, magician and other street performers.

Though Ocean City has a year-round population of just 7,000, the beachfront resort community attracts as many as 8 million visitors each year, according to its website.

Acting as spokesman for fellow street performers, lead plaintiff Anthony Christ says in a pro se Oct. 29 filing that their ilk have been working Ocean City's boardwalk for the last 65 years.

In lieu of filing a new complaint, and paying the $400 filing fee, Christ and six others moved to have the U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander reopen the last street-performance case she worked on, Chase v. Ocean City.

"We are artists of meager means, who make people laugh, dazzle with magic, entertain with song and dance, peak the children's curiosity," the motion states.

Though it's been four years since Hollander "ruled that registration of performers violated their constitutional rights, and therefore was illegal," she closed the case this past August, the new filing says.

In July, Ocean City passed a new ordinance that requires street performers to sign up for a designated number of spots twice a week, according to news reports.

Since the ordinance's passage, Ocean City held 19 registrations through Sept. 30, according to the complaint.

Having identified 32 desirable spots on the boardwalk, the city used the 19 registrations to assign these locations "on a first come, first served basis," according to the complaint.

Claiming that the 32 spots have different attributes in terms of visibility, revenue prospects and other factors, the performers say they had to sleep overnight on the City Hall lawn to be first in line when the doors open at 9 a.m. for the registration process.

Many performers could not handle the schedule, according to the complaint.

"Many performers unable to sustain these rigors left town," the complaint states.

Christ and the other performers says the registration scheme that Hollander struck down as overbroad in 2011 "is mild when compared to the new ordinance."

The process at issue in 2011 involved a one-time registration for $7 and required performers to produce photo identification, according to the complaint.

Christ says the new scheme "requires sleeping overnight in the elements to participate in the town's 'designated selection' and eliminates performers who are infirm, aged, handicapped, or in many cases merely did not have the time/money to spend 15-18 hours in the elements (i.e., they had to work)." (Emphasis and parentheses in original.)

Unless the court intervenes, "next year, these illegal registrations are scheduled to go from May 1 through September 30 at intervals of twice a week, or approximately forty-four (44) illegal registrations," the complaint states.

Christ says Ocean City adopted the new regulation in spite of the court's previous orders, and against numerous public protests.

The performers accuse the city of deceiving the court and wasting $206,000 in taxpayer money on attorneys' fees to do so.

In addition to $1 million in damages, plus a decision striking the new ordinance down as unconstitutional, the performers want the court to suspend the license of city solicitor Guy Ayres for 90 days.

The city council and mayor of Ocean City have not returned requests for comment.

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