Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Blogger States Free Speech and Establishment Clause Claims

In Rich v. City of Jacksonville, (MD FL, March 31, 2010), a Florida federal district court refused to dismiss claims by a blogger in a lawsuit against a police officer and an assistant state attorney. Tom Rich began an anonymous blog on which he raised concerns about the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Police officer Robert Hinson, who was also on the pastor's security detail, opened an investigation in order to be able to subpoena Google and Comcast to discover the owner of the blog. Hinson obtained subpoenas from defendant Stephen Siegel in the Office of the State Attorney. After Hinson or Siegel told church officials that the blogger was Tom Rich, the church issued trespass warnings against Rich and his wife, barring them from church premises. (See prior posting.) The court concluded that, if proven, the allegations would support a finding that plaintiff's right to anonymous speech was infringed, and that the Establishment Clause was violated because defendants had no secular purpose for their actions. The court however dismissed another portion of the complaint on 11th Amendment grounds-- a damage claim against the state attorney in her official capacity. Yesterday's Florida Times-Union reported on the decision.