PORTLAND (AP) – A federal judge will soon decide whether Kennebunk can enforce its order that a restaurant owner take down signs promoting Hebrew National hot dogs while his lawsuit against the town is pending.

Brian Bartley, owner of Bartley’s Dockside, charged that Paul Demers, Kennebunk’s code-enforcement officer, made an anti-Semitic remark to him last summer as he ordered Bartley to take down table umbrellas with the Hebrew National logo.

“I was outraged,” Bartley told U.S. District Judge Gene Carter on Friday. “I told Mr. Demers that I hoped that town officials don’t have a bias against Jewish people.”

Demers denied ever making an anti-Semitic comment about the hot dogs. “That is absolutely, 100 percent not true,” he testified. “I did not make that statement.”

Bartley sued the town, asserting that Demers violated his free speech rights by ordering the removal of the umbrellas and that Kennebunk’s sign ordinance is not equally enforced.

Demers said he cited Bartley for having too many signs, not for having signs that contained objectionable wording. Demers said he issued the citation in response to complaints from one of Bartley’s competitors.

Kennebunk’s sign ordinance allows three signs per business. Demers said enforcement has been spotty because of staffing shortages but that he has never singled out a particular business for enforcement.

Responding to questions from his own lawyer Friday, Bartley acknowledged having served 90 days in jail 10 years ago after the state prosecuted him for failing to pay $200,000 in state sales taxes.

He said the violation of state tax law taught him that “I need to be honest and tell the truth at all times. It was a big lesson for me. I hadn’t been in trouble before that and I haven’t since.”

Carter is considering whether to issue an order telling the town to stop enforcing the sign ordinance until Bartley’s lawsuit is completed.

If Demers cited Bartley as part of his enforcement duties, then he didn’t violate anyone’s rights, Carter said. But if Demers ordered the signs be taken down because they promoted Jewish hot dogs, that would violate the constitution, the judge said.

AP-ES-07-19-03 1211EDT

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