A federal judge ruled today that a regular speaker at meetings of the Orange County Board of Supervisors cannot challenge a rule restricting critical and derogatory speech by public speakers at open and public board meetings.
United States District Judge James Selna held that William Fitzgerald, spokesperson for Anaheim HOME, an organization that seeks government accountability, did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of a Rule 46, a board rule prohibits speakers from making personal, impertinent, slanderous, or profane remarks while addressing the board. The judge therefore ruled that he had no jurisdiction to decide upon the constitutionality of the county’s restriction.
The ACLU of Southern California represents William Fitzgerald in his lawsuit against the County of Orange. Fitzgerald, a regular speaker at board meetings, on two occasions had offered sharp and caustic criticism of the board, its staff, and members of the public. On both occasions, he was approached by a sheriff’s deputy and told to desist from making inappropriate comments and to be courteous. Supervisors Moorlach and Nguyen also commented that Fitzgerald’s statements went beyond the protections of the First Amendment and were appalling and wrong.
“The Constitution gives all of us the right to speak our minds, even if what we’re saying isn’t popular with everyone,” said Bardis Vakili, ACLU/SC staff attorney. “Rule 46 and the board’s Speaker Guidelines plainly prohibit constitutionally protected speech, are vague, and allow supervisors to pick and choose whom they hear from, cutting off criticism and stifling debate. That’s not the way we conduct government in this country. We regret the judge refused to hear the merits of this case.”
The ACLU/SC is considering filing an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.