Vet Must Appeal Again for Controversial Plates
CHESAPEAKE -- If an Iraq war veteran wants his ICUHAJI plates back, he will have to start over with the Department of Motor Vehicles and file a second appeal.
It doesn't matter that Circuit Judge John W. Brown previously ruled the DMV was wrong to revoke Sean Bujno's personalized plates on the grounds that they denigrated people of a particular nationality or religion -- namely Arab Americans or Muslims. During a hearing Wednesday, the judge noted that the DMV has come up with new reasons to deny the plates.
State law requires the process to begin again, he said.
Outside the courtroom, Bujno's attorney said he would file another appeal in the next couple of weeks.
"It's a shame the commonwealth wants to handle it like this," said Andrew Meyer, who expects to be arguing the case again this summer. "But it's the nature of the law. It can take quite a bit of time to get to the proper result."
Bujno, a former Army sergeant who was honorably discharged in 2009, displayed the tags on his car for more than four years before they were revoked.
In a Nov. 3, 2011, letter, DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb explained the tags -- which can be read, "I see you, haji" -- violated a prohibition on letter combinations that could reasonably be interpreted as being "socially, racially, or ethnically offensive or disparaging."
Bujno appealed. While "haji" is a common and often derogatory term for Muslims used by U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Meyer noted the word's historic definition: "a person who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca," or the hajj.
Meyer said his client has expanded the meaning to include all soldiers who have served in Iraq.
Late last year, Brown declared the DMV's guideline regarding ethnically offensive plates unconstitutional.
If the DMV is going to let people praise certain ethnicities on their license plates, it also must let people denigrate them, he said.
Brown ordered the DMV to either return the license plates to Bujno or find a permissible reason to keep the tags from him.
Last month, the DMV notified Bujno the tags are now being denied because they condone or encourage violence and are obscene or otherwise vulgar in nature.