Death row inmate’s former lawyer suing Weber County, claims free speech rights violated

1 of 2 View 2 Items Law Office of Samuel P. Newton Samuel Newton OGDEN — The former attorney for a death row inmate is suing Weber County, claiming his contract was terminated because he publicly criticized the lack of funding for his client's appeal. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, appellate attorney Samuel Newton claims his right to free speech was violated when he was fired in apparent retaliation for his remarks. Newton was representing Douglas Lovell, 60, who was appealing a death sentence for murdering 39-year-old Joyce Yost. Lovell killed the South Ogden woman to keep her from testifying in court that he had kidnapped and raped her. Lovell first pleaded guilty to murdering Yost in 1985 but was spared the death penalty on the condition that he lead authorities to her remains. When he failed to do so, he was sentenced to die in 1993. In 2010 the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea and ordered a new trial. He was found guilty by a jury in March 2015. As part of Lovell's appeal, Newton sought additional funding to thoroughly investigate whether Lovell's previous attorney had failed him at trial, and whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints interfered in the case by limiting what LDS bishops who had interacted with Lovell behind bars could say on his behalf on the witness stand during the sentencing phase of the trial. Newton was granted $15,000 of the $37,000 he requested for the effort, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit notes that Weber County is one of five counties in Utah that does not rely on the state's indigent defense fund, but funds defense efforts for indigent defendants on its own. In January 2017, the county renewed its contract with Newton. In June, Newton asked to be removed from the case, suggesting in the filing that Weber County was underfunding Lovell's appeal and that the strain of the dispute with the county was compromising Newton's health, Continue Reading

Greitens’ lawyers say ban on using text-erasing app would violate free-speech rights

Ordering Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff to stop using an app that erases text messages would violate their free speech rights, attorneys for the governor argued in a brief filed Tuesday. Greitens and his senior government staff use an app on their personal phones called Confide that erases text messages after they are read and prevents someone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of texts. Because the app is designed to eliminate a paper trail, it is impossible to determine whether the governor and his staff used it to conduct state business out of view of the public, or whether they’re using it for personal and campaign purposes. Two St. Louis County attorneys filed a lawsuit late last month accusing Greitens and his staff of engaging in an ongoing conspiracy to violate Missouri’s open records laws by using Confide. And they’ve asked a Cole County judge to issue a temporary injunction blocking employees of the governor’s office from using the app. In the brief filed Tuesday, Greitens’ attorneys argue that blocking use of the app is improper because it would prevent the governor and his staff from using Confide to send “purely personal, non-work-related messages.” “Such an injunction also would run afoul of these employees’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” the governor’s attorneys said. Mark Pedroli, one of the attorneys who sued Greitens and co-founder of a group called the Sunshine Project, called the governor’s argument a “breathtaking endorsement of the use of Confide and message shredding software in general.” He noted that White House staffers reportedly used Confide to keep their communications secret until former press secretary Sean Spicer explicitly banned its use, saying it was a violation of the Presidential Records Act. “The governor’s office isn’t shutting down the use of this software, like Trump’s White House Continue Reading

Tensions grow inside ACLU over defending free-speech rights for the far right

It was 1934 and fascism was on the march not only in Europe but in America. People who admired Adolf Hitler, who had taken power in Germany, formed Nazi organizations in the United States.The American Civil Liberties Union, represented by lawyers who were Jewish, faced an existential question: Should the freedoms it stood for since its founding in 1920 apply even to racist groups that would like nothing more than to strip them away?Ultimately, after much internal dissent, the ACLU decided: Yes, the principles were what mattered most. The ACLU would stand up for the free-speech rights of Nazis.“We do not choose our clients,” the ACLU’s board of directors wrote in an October 1934 pamphlet called “Shall We Defend Free Speech for Nazis In America?” “Lawless authorities denying their rights choose them for us. To those who support suppressing propaganda they hate, we ask — where do you draw the line?”Once again, the ACLU is wrestling with how to respond to a far-right movement in the U.S. whose rising visibility is prompting concerns from elected officials and activists.In response to the deadly violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, the ACLU’s three California affiliates released a statement Wednesday declaring that “white supremacist violence is not free speech.”The national organization said Thursday that it would not represent white supremacist groups that want to demonstrate with guns. That stance is a new interpretation of the ACLU’s official position that reasonable gun regulation does not violate the 2nd Amendment.Officials in Charlottesville had initially denied organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally a permit to hold the event at the site of a Robert E. Lee statue. But the ACLU filed a lawsuit defending protesters’ rights to gather there. The rally ended with one woman killed and dozens of people injured as neo-Nazis and other far-right groups that Continue Reading

She couldn’t bring a sign into a county commission meeting. Did Hamilton County violate her free speech rights?

Should you be able to hold signs in county offices?This innocuous question caused a loud argument in front of the county building Wednesday and raised a free speech questions county leaders said they’ll try to answer. Sheriff’s deputies told a Norwood woman on Wednesday she couldn’t bring her signs critical of the Metropolitan Sewer District into the Hamilton County administration building.That resident, Yvonne Collins, wanted to make sure county leaders knew where she stood on the local sewer system.She scrawled on two posters “MSD=Crooks” and “MSD cheated me.”Collins and MSD have had differences since unusual storms in August 2016 backed up sewers into her home. She said she’s tried to get compensation since.She planned to attend Wednesday’s meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners holding the two posters.Deputies stopped her at the administration building’s metal detectors and told her the signs weren’t permitted. As she stood by the door, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Todd Portune walked in.Collins tried to address him and was interrupted by deputies.“I want to talk to my commissioner,” Collins said.Portune listened, thanked her and then made his way to the elevator.Deputies confiscated the signs while Collins attended the meeting. Undaunted, Collins wrote on a piece of notebook paper, “MSD and the commissioners are crooks,” and held it up during the meeting.Collins was surprised she couldn’t have the signs. She had brought them in before at an October meeting of the board of commissioners.“They give you two minutes to talk(at the meetings), but some people don’t want to talk, they just want to be there for support,” Collins said. “The signs weren’t bad. Weren’t disrespectful.”Portune said he talked with the deputies afterward, who told him the sign prohibition was a sheriff’s Continue Reading

ACLU sues Cleveland over RNC protester free-speech rights

Cleveland, which is hosting next month's Republican National Convention next month, was sued Tuesday by the ACLU of Ohio over protest rules that allegedly violate free speech rights of thousands of expected demonstrators. The group is asking a federal judge to force the city to immediately act on permit applications that were made months ago. The plaintiffs are also pushing the city to reduce the restrictions and size of the convention's "event zone," a huge 3.3-mile area that covers much of Cleveland's Downtown area. "The limitations apply far beyond the part of the city where the convention activities will take place," the lawsuit says. "These regulations severely limit the opportunities for members of the public to exercise their expressive rights during the convention." Christine Link, executive director of the Ohio ACLU, said the rules are "arbitrary, unnecessary and unjustifiable." "The current rules for demonstrations at the RNC are actively blocking groups from all sides of the political spectrum from participating in their government," Link said. "City officials have refused to make proper accommodations to protect free speech, so we are asking the courts to step in now." Donald Trump is expected to officially become the Republican Party's candidate for President at the Cleveland convention. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of three groups planning to demonstrate at the GOP convention in Cleveland: Citizens for Trump, Organize Ohio and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Dan Williams, a spokesman for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, said the city has not yet received an official copy of the lawsuit. City officials have said they sought to balance safety with the free-speech rights of demonstrators. The GOP convention, scheduled for July 18-21, will attract an estimated 50,000 people, and a significant number of protesters. Continue Reading

Liberals should embrace free speech | Bridget Bush

The deadline for high school seniors to pick a college is just days away. Many will decide based on the school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking. Even more important, however, is checking the college or university’s commitment to free speech.Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be snowflakes.As I watched the University of California at Berkeley disgrace itself over whether it would allow Ann Coulter to speak to its students, I wondered why any parent would send their child to this once great university that has become a symbol of intolerance. ► Political correctness hits Kentucky Derby | Bridget Bush Conservative student clubs had invited Coulter to speak at Berkeley. Fearing a reprise of the riot that ensued when Milo Yiannopoulos was to speak on campus a few months ago, Berkeley rescinded Coulter’s invitation, citing safety concerns. Some students, it seems, are so enraged by Coulter’s and Milo’s ideas that their hecklers’ veto turns violent. Berkeley has since reinvited her to speak during the “dead week” when students are less likely to attend; Coulter declined the new date.The cost for non-Californians to attend Berkeley: $61,654 a year; in-state is $34,972.At Middlebury College in Vermont in March, liberals shouted down political scientist Charles Murray’s scheduled speech on his book "The Bell Curve." Then the students (some wearing ski masks) mobbed Murray as he tried to leave the event.“So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that (the driver) had to inch forward lest he run over them,” Murray recounted.The cost for a year at Middlebury: $63,917.On Feb. 9, a few days after the Milo debacle at Berkeley, the University of Louisville’s Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise hosted conservative Star Parker at the College of Business.Parker is a black Continue Reading

New law governing so-called crisis pregnancy centers seems to avoid trampling free-speech rights

The City Council may have found a way to regulate so-called crisis pregnancy centers - which try to persuade women to forgo abortions - without infringing on free speech rights. Repeat: May have. The Council and pro-choice advocates drummed up regulatory legislation because, first and foremost, they take umbrage at the anti-abortion message delivered by the centers. Hoping to stifle an opposing view is always a bad motivation for writing laws, but the final bill could pass court muster as a consumer protection measure. Still, it's a very, very close call. The centers have names like Pregnancy Help and Pregnancy Resource Services. Although they do not mention "abortion" on their signs or in advertisements, some women visit thinking they will get assistance in terminating a pregnancy. Instead, women meet staff members who are interested in persuading them to carry pregnancies to full term and give birth. In some cases, the staff will reinforce the message by taking an ultrasound image of a fetus. Although organizations like EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, which has 12 offices, have a clear constitutional right to deliver their views, the National Abortion Rights Action League charged, in effect, that the groups deceive women by setting up shop in a pro-choice city where women could confuse them with abortion providers. The advocates demanded legislation requiring the centers to post signs saying they do not offer abortion services. Since that would never fly in court, the Council came up with a bill that says abortion providers and opponents have to state their business if they meet certain criteria. Those include using an ultrasound machine or presenting themselves in ways that might actually be deceptive. For example, having staff wear medical garb and equipping an office with medical tables in order to imply to women who wander in that abortions would be available. Standards like that give the bill some merit as a consumer protection measure, but Continue Reading

Social media testing limits of free speech by public employees

A police officer in Nashville was fired for a Facebook comment about the death of a black man in Minnesota who was shot four times by a white cop. "Yeah. I would have done 5," the Nashville officer wrote.A 911 operator in Nashville was fired for Facebook comments about last year's presidential election. "Thank God we have more American loving rednecks," she wrote. "Even (racial expletive) and Latinos voted for Trump too!"A University of Tennessee instructor was fired after she responded to a student’s criticism with social media posts that included a meme showing a wrapped present with the message: "I'm sorry if I upset you. Please accept this complimentary (sex toy) and go (expletive) yourself." A volunteer firefighter in Earle, Ark., was relieved of duty for writing on Facebook that those protesting pro football players "should be shot in the head" and "obama lovin snowflakes" should be "shot on sight."A Batesville, Miss., teacher was fired, two Memphis police officers were suspended, and at least four Shelby County employees lost their jobs in recent months for racially insensitive or offensive comments they made on social media.One Memphis police officer posted a white person pointing a gun at a cartoon image of a black child on Snapchat.Whatever happened to common decency? Whatever happened to free speech? Here in the social media age, both are under duress, if not direct assault."Social media has made it easier to exercise free speech, but in some ways it also has made that speech more public and less protected," said Steve Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor and a former Shelby County commissioner. "It's an emerging area of law that is complicated and unclear."And untested. Lower courts are still sorting through social media's implications for the free speech rights of public employees.Clearly, if you are in uniform in a government office using a government computer, whatever you post on social media can be used against you Continue Reading

Ducey hails two bills for advancing free speech

Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday signed two bills that will broaden free-speech rights on college campuses as well as at political and government events.Rep. Anthony Kern's legislation effectively makes the entire campus of a community college or university a free-speech zone, rather than having such activities limited to prescribed areas. Kern, R-Glendale, introduced the legislation based on his experience years ago of seeing a student religious group relegated to a small corner of the Glendale Community College campus when it wanted to hand out literature.Ducey said House Bill 2615 will contribute to a college student's education."(P)art of the university experience is to be able to express diverse views, openly, without fear of retribution or intimidation – and to be exposed to other views and perspectives, even if they aren’t politically correct or popular," Ducey wrote.The bill contains some reasonable exceptions, such as clarifying the free-speech provisions extend to a public forum. It also allows anyone who feels their rights have been violated to go to court and recover attorney and legal fees, if they prevail.Another bill, HB 2548, contains similar provisions, but was expanded in the state Senate to include penalties for people who obstruct passage to a political or government event.Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, added that provision to HB 2548, after people protesting Donald Trump's appearance in Fountain Hills in March blocked the Beeline Highway.Critics argued there already are provisions in the law that make obstructing a highway illegal, but Kavanagh said he wanted to increase the penalty for people who are found to intentionally block such access. The bill, as signed by Ducey, makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor and includes government meetings and hearings within its scope. The offense could bring jail time of up to six months, or a $2,500 fine. Reach the reporter at [email protected] Continue Reading

Protect campus free speech — even when you loathe the message

It seems every day we delight in revisiting the limits of free speech, even in a country that protects it — fairly robustly — in the very first amendment of its founding document. Even members of the press — a group that more than any other should not only grasp but defend the notion — have seemed confused recently about whether or not hate speech is protected by the Constitution, and if we should ban certain offensive words. If you’re disturbed by the idea that the media, supposed watchdogs of the state, are ambivalent about free speech rights, it’s even worse on college campuses, where universities regularly struggle to determine when the First Amendment applies and when it can be thwarted. Last week I gave a speech on this very topic at UC-Santa Barbara, where in 2014 an associate professor of feminist studies, Mireille Miller-Young, stole and tore up a pro-life poster belonging to a teenage girl and assaulted another protester. She was eventually charged with grand theft from a person, battery and vandalism, and was sentenced to three years probation, 100 hours of community service and 10 hours of anger-management classes after pleading no contest. Believe it or not, the university stood by Miller-Young. She is still teaching at UCSB, to the understandable outrage of many pro-life students. (I think retaining her was a good thing, but more on that in a minute.) Meanwhile, the University of Kansas seems to have kept on the faculty a professor who tweeted in the aftermath of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.” His comments were disgusting (and I say that as an NRA member and mother), but if you truly defend free speech, you know it protects all kinds of vile viewpoints. Even racist viewpoints, like those belonging to Boston University African-American Studies professor, Saida Grundy. Set to start in Continue Reading