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Appellate victory wasn’t in the cards for ‘Psychic Sophie’

A Chesterfield County spiritual advisor made a federal case out of it when the county told her she could not practice her craft without paying for a license as a fortune teller. She took her case all the way to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the stars did not favor her appeal.

“Sophie,” also known as Patricia Moore-King, had argued her practice was protected by the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney was not a believer. He found the evidence “undisputed” that her practice was “deceptive” and unworthy of First Amendment protection.

The trial judge may have overstated the case, the 4th Circuit panel said. Fortune telling may not be inherently deceptive and the First Amendment may offer some protection, wrote Judge Allyson K. Duncan for the panel.

Doctors and lawyers sometimes make predictions that turn out not to be true, Duncan reasoned. At the least, the deceptiveness of Moore-King’s advice was a jury matter unsuited to summary judgment, the court said.

What the county termed mere commercial speech, however, was a good fit under the “professional speech doctrine” of First Amendment caselaw, the court said. The county could properly apply a general licensing and regulatory scheme for fortune tellers, the court held.

The court also rejected “Sophie’s” arguments based on religious freedom and equal protection claims.

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