The ACLU of Southern California sued Orange County and its Board of Supervisors for violating disabled Vietnam Veteran William D. Fitzgerald’s right of freedom of speech for expressing his views and criticizing the Board and the way it conducts county business.
At two separate open and public meetings of the Orange County Board of Supervisors (OCBOS), the Board silenced Fitzgerald and had him removed from the meeting because some of the Supervisors disagreed with the content of Fitzgerald’s statements which he made during the public participation portions of the meetings. At one meeting, during his allotted three minutes, Fitzgerald spoke on behalf of Anaheim HOME, a group that works to protect homeowners’ rights, a majority of whom are elderly. He expressed his deep frustration over the property tax decisions of the County Appeals Board, believing their actions resulted in unjust taxes to homeowners. When he compared the Clerk of the Board, who runs the appeals board, to a commander of a concentration camp for following the orders of her bosses, he was silenced and instructed to leave the podium by a sheriff’s deputy before his allotted time had expired.
Supervisors John Moorlach and Janet Nguyen scolded Fitzgerald for being impolite, expressed their opinion that he lacked credibility, and told him they were in a position of authority over him. During the public hearing on redistricting, the Board similarly silenced Fitzgerald before his allotted three minutes were up because they disagreed with what he said. The OCBOS’s rules and speaker guidelines prohibit speech in open and public board meetings. It discriminates against speech on the basis of content or viewpoints and penalizes speech the board deems inappropriate. Regulating speech in this way is unconstitutional because it runs the risk of permitting official censorship. The lawsuit seeks that the OCBOS rules and speaker guidelines be declared unconstitutional and prohibit the OCBOS from undertaking other acts to discourage free speech, and allow Fitzgerald to participate in the public meetings without fear of retaliation.