CHESAPEAKE, Va. – A legal battle between the state and an Iraq war veteran over his personalized license plate is not over.
Sean Bujno's plate reads: "ICUHAJI," which can be read to state: "I See You, Haji." Some Arab-Americans object to that phrase.
The DMV revoked the license plate in 2011, saying it could be interpreted as socially, racially or ethically offensive or disparaging.
Chesapeake Circuit Court Judge John W. Brown ruled last November that the DMV couldn't deny the Chesapeake man's license plate on the basis that it denigrated individuals of a particular nationality. The judge ordered the DMV to either return the license plate to Bujno or find a permissible reason to keep it from him.
In a recent letter sent to Bujno, the DMV now says the license plate encourages violence and is vulgar.
"That couldn't be further from the truth," Bujno's attorney, Andrew Meyer, told The Virginian-Pilot. "He really means it respectfully."
Meyer said the use of the word "Haji" is not intended as a slur. He said it simply refers to someone who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca, or the hajj.
"Some might see it as a slur, but it's not," Meyer said. "The word haji is not obscene."
A DMV spokesperson declined to comment on Bujno's case, citing state privacy laws.
Meyer said Tuesday that he plans to bring the matter back before Brown to argue the DMV is again violating his client's free-speech rights. A hearing is set for March 13.
Meyer said Brown signed his final order on Dec. 7 and it took the DMV more than three months to make a decision regarding his client's plates.
"It never should have taken this long," he said. "They didn't like the plate and decided to hold on to it until they found a reason to deny it."
The plate was displayed on Bujno's car for more than four years before the DMV revoked it. Bujno was honorably discharged from the Army in 2009.