Engel & Martin, LLC has filed a Federal Lawsuit on behalf of five Hamilton Township, Ohio residents who allege that a Township Trustee violated the First Amendment when he blocked people from commenting on his Facebook page.
The new lawsuit involves David Wallace, a trustee of Hamilton Township, a small government entity in Southwest Ohio. Wallace used his Facebook page to disseminate information about the activities of the local government. His posts highlighted construction projects, meeting agendas, crime statistics, and other issues of local concern. Often, constituents would comment on these issues, and Wallace would respond to and address any concerns raised.
Although the Facebook page in question contains the occasional personal posts, it is mostly used to communicate township business or other matters directly related to Wallace’s position as a trustee. Wallace keeps a separate campaign webpage that links to the Facebook page.
Wallace banned the five plaintiffs from commenting on his Facebook page because they posted comments or made statements were critical of his actions. The Plaintiffs allege that Wallace is acting in a governmental capacity while operating the Facebook page. As a result, the page is a public forum for protected, free speech under federal law.
Josh Engel, attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “Social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are vital means of communication between government officials and the public in the twenty-first century. The First Amendment protects the right of citizens to communicate with public officials ad prohibits government officials from only allowing messages from supporters.”
Recently, a federal court in Virginia found that a local politician had violated the First Amendment when she temporarily banned a constituent from commenting on her Facebook page. This case raises substantially similar issues. Engel observed:
The right to criticize a public official is at the core of the Freedom of Speech. Courts are starting to recognize that public officials can’t create an online forum to share information and then simply shut down critical voices. Wallace’s actions essentially transformed a pubic forum into an echo-chamber.
Engel & Martin, LLC is a leading civil rights firm focusing on due process issues. The firm has won victories supporting the due process rights of motorists challenging speed camera scehemes and students accused of misconduct in schools.