Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ACLU-NH Settles Alton Free Speech Case for $42,500

Concord, NH – On May 2, 2016, the ACLU of New Hampshire succeeded in defending the rights of its client, Jeffrey Clay, with the settlement of his federal civil rights lawsuit against the Town of Alton.  Mr. Clay was arrested on February 3, 2015 during an Alton Board of Selectmen meeting simply for engaging in political, non-disruptive speech on matters of public concern.  As part of the settlement, the Town of Alton has agreed to pay $42,500, inclusive of damages and attorneys’ fees.  In the federal lawsuit, Mr. Clay was represented by Gilles Bissonnette, the Legal Director of the ACLU-NH, and cooperating attorney Jared Bedrick of Bedrick Law Offices.  More on the case can be found here: http://aclu-nh.org/state-v-clay/.
“I am so happy that my case is finally over,” stated Mr. Clay.  “It was embarrassing to be arrested and prosecuted for four months simply for engaging political speech.  As a result of my February 2015 arrest, I have not attended local board meetings out of fear that I would be arrested and prosecuted again.  I feel like I can now attend and exercise my free speech rights without harassment and prosecution.”
During the February 3 Board meeting, Mr. Clay was given the opportunity to speak on any issue for 5 minutes as part of the Board’s policy of “provid[ing] the Board with an opportunity to receive directly from citizens concerns, desires, or hopes they may have for the community.”  During his remarks, Mr. Clay asked all Board members to resign for their “poor actions as selectmen,” “poor decisions,” and “continued violations of the citizens’ rights here in Alton.”  His remarks referenced, in part, his belief that the Board has violated New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know law by holding “workshop” sessions at odd hours of the day and making decisions during them that were not transparent.  He did not raise his voice or use any profanities.  His speech was not disruptive.
Approximately 40 seconds into Mr. Clay’s speech, one Board member interrupted Mr. Clay, called the remarks “character assassination,” and requested a “point of order.”  The Board Chairman recognized the request and ultimately proposed a “point of order” to “clos[e] down public input” because of the “libelous” and “defamatory statements made by Mr. Clay.”  The 5-member Board then, with no dissenters, immediately approved the “point of order” closing down public input.  All of this occurred within the first 2 minutes of Mr. Clay’s allotted time.  Because Mr. Clay was speaking peacefully on matters of public concern within his 5 minutes of allotted time, he continued speaking.  As a result, 4 minutes into his remarks, he was arrested by the Alton Chief of Police.  A video of this incident can be found at http://youtu.be/RYnSJZTFghY.
On February 23, 2015, the Town of Alton filed two complaints against Mr. Clay alleging disorderly conduct.  Each was charged as a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,200.  On March 10, 2015, the ACLU-NH  wrote the Town of Alton on Mr. Clay’s behalf explaining that the Town, in suppressing Mr. Clay’s peaceful political speech, engaged in impermissible censorship in violation of the First Amendment.   Despite the ACLU-NH’s letter, the Town of Alton continued to prosecute Mr. Clay for one count of disorderly conduct.
On June 9, 2015, the Laconia Circuit Court dismissed the criminal charge, calling Alton’s actions “pure censorship” in violation of the First Amendment.  On July 14, 2015, Mr. Clay filed a federal civil rights lawsuitagainst the Town of Alton.  As part of the settlement in this case, Alton denies liability.
“In a free society, governmental officials are required to tolerate harsh criticism and even a demeaning attitude towards them—including viewpoints that can feel like ‘character assassination’—and cannot discriminate based on these critical viewpoints,” stated Mr. Bissonnette.  “Speech directed to and about the government is singled out for protection because speech lies at the very heart of the First Amendment,” added Mr. Bedrick.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

And I thought Alton was a sanely balanced town. The BOS can take solace that Sen. Kelley Ayotte is backing the Trumpster fire.

Disbelief said...

How do you go from Alton to Ayotte?

Still Reading Blog said...

I am surprised that this article was even posted.
We now have selectmen's meeting where you are scorned if you don't walk up to the podium. In fact you are denied speech if you don't walk up to podium. Even if handicapped or disabled.
We all got along fine for decades without a podium.

Moultonboro Blogger said...

People wishing to speak are asked to come up to the podium so that they can been seen on camera and heard by those watching online. No one has been denied the right to speak. No one is scorned or denied speech. I see the fact twisters are once again hard at work.

This won't be posted said...

Fact.
I have viewed at selectmen's meeting denial of speech unless one walks up to podium by Shipp.
Zero regards to handicap or disability.
Been there. Viewed such.

Moultonboro Blogger said...

Cut the crap. You know that is a twisted interpretation of the facts. No one is being denied. People cannot hear what the audience is saying. Pretty simple. Not a conspiracy by the way.

Hard of Hearing Old F--T said...

While I understand the need to be at the podium for purposes of being heard via the very deficient streaming system, I don't understand why the early Public Discussion period was eliminated. Many of us older f--ts do not like to stay all night and would prefer to address the Board early and go home and watch the show via the stream or some other entertainment.

I also am unhappy that the audio streaming, which is much more important than the video is deficient and often unintelligible when watching. For a Town with the tax revenue and expenditures of Moultonboro, it is a sad commentary.

Anonymous said...

This wont be posted - What meeting specifically did this happen at? I'd like to see it for myself. Forgive me if I find your comment a little hard to believe. If you don't reply, I'll assume that you misrepresented the truth.