Allen B. West

First amendment assault: Newspaper in the OC in CA is SOL with SLAAP

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We recently reported on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to conduct a “critical information needs” study that would have placed the government agency in newsrooms across America. Thanks to their plan being exposed and the outrage of the American people, it seems the FCC has recanted. But is that truly the end of the issue of government assault on First Amendment rights?

Gina Loudon uncovered a case in California where local government is seeking to undermine that right. She reports,

“After city officials voted to ban criticism of them on public property, more than 100 citizen activists in Orange County, Calif., rallied to express outrage over what they characterize as an attack on their First Amendment rights. Technically, what the city council of San Juan Capistrano (SJC), Calif., did was to vote behind closed doors to ban newspaper racks from city property.”

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The vote occurred just four days after one publication, Community Common Sense (CCS), which often has been critical of the council majority, placed its news rack alongside others at city hall and the community center. The council moved swiftly in response by banning all racks. Obviously they sought not to specifically target the Community Common Sense. Community Common Sense then filed a lawsuit to restore the news racks to city property and the city raised the fight to the next level — they filed a motion.

City officials filed an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) motion, alleging that CCS violated the rights of the council majority. The anti-SLAPP law aims to prevent plaintiffs from suing defendants with the goal not of winning the lawsuit but of silencing free speech and warning others not to cross the plaintiff. With the anti-SLAPP motion, the city claims the lawsuit brought by CCS is frivolous and is only an attempt to intimidate and stifle the free speech rights of the elected officials.

So let me get this right, the San Juan Capistrano City Council doesn’t like being criticized so they vote to ban news racks from public property. A publication files a lawsuit against their action. The City Council files a motion against the publication stating they have the freedom of speech to outlaw freedom of speech? Doggone glad that I don’t live in California.

The anti-SLAPP suit against CCS isn’t the only intimidation the publication is getting from public officials. Alvin Ehrig, a volunteer for CCS, claims he witnessed stacks of CCS newspapers being thrown in the trash by a volunteer worker at the San Juan Capistrano Senior Center. He approached a person in charge and informed her of the actions of the volunteer. In a sworn statement, Ehrig said, “She told me how much she hated [CCS] and that it had no place at the Senior Center.”Orange County sheriff’s detectives later appeared at Ehrig’s home and the detectives then warned him “not to put CCS newspapers on any city property.”

I don’t care if CCS is liberal or conservative, this is horribly wrong and is unacceptable anywhere in America. Any residents out there from Orange County in California? What do you think?

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