Irvine’s Mayor’s Facebook flap leads to lawsuit against the first amendment

A resident of Irvine filed a complaint in federal court this week accusing Mayor Christina Shea of ​​violating his First Amendment rights by blocking his profile on Facebook after making comments in support of the Black Lives Matter movement would have.

The complaint, filed on behalf of Irvine-based Lamar West, claims Shea used her Facebook page as a public forum and blocked West’s ability to openly discuss police brutality and racism during a critical debate in the country.

The lawsuit also states that Shea blocked other residents from their profile page.

“Because of her criticism of the mayor’s tenure and position in relation to recent social events, the plaintiff and a host of other individuals have been prevented or prevented from viewing the mayor’s profile, responding to their posts, viewing the discussions related to the posts and from participating in these discussions, ”the complaint stated. “Accordingly, the defendant’s actions violated the Plaintiff’s 1st Amendment Right to express dissent in response to the Mayor’s policy of expressing dissent and seeing and interacting with the comments of others who expressed such dissent in a similar manner.”

West is represented by Los Angeles-based firms Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman.

Shea first came under fire for her online activities in early June after she deleted and blocked comments on her Facebook profile that support the Black Lives Matter movement. At the time, she claimed that the profile page was for personal use and that she had a separate Facebook profile for public dialogue. Officials are legally allowed to maintain private social media accounts.

However, Shea released similar statements on both sides during the Black Lives Matter protests in June, and the complaint alleges that Shea has “used her profile since its inception … to disseminate information about activities by mayors and councilors …” all with greater frequency than their side. “

Shea said she made sure her Facebook forums were used properly.

“After receiving a letter on my personal Facebook page, I consulted with my city attorney and as a result made a series of simple changes to ensure that my personal page was dedicated to personal affairs and the public page was dedicated to city affairs,” said Shea Thursday in a text message comment. “These changes were made weeks ago. My city attorney told me that everything is now compliant. As an elected civil servant who is not a lawyer, it was good to have adequate guidance as the laws have been constantly changing. “

Shea’s June comments, made amid national protests sparked after the death of George Floyd, strongly supported her police department and criticized protesters. They provoked heated discussions on their part.

“We have been named one of the safest cities in America for 15 straight years, and I will not agree to cut our public safety funding, especially after seeing the violence we witnessed as a nation over the past week “Shea wrote on her Facebook page on June 3, according to the complaint. “If you come to Irvine to promote an agenda and protest lower public safety protection, your best bet is to turn around and find another city to compromise on.”

Many were critical of Shea’s post, including West, a black man.

“As other educated people have pointed out, it’s okay that you support the movement and don’t disappoint the police, but you don’t want to either. I can hear your racist ancestors on this post, and it’s gross. Enjoy your position [lasts]”West wrote according to the complaint.

West was blocked shortly after the post and remains blocked, the lawsuit said.

The complaint, which also alleges a violation of the California Constitution, also seeks damages for West and the court to order Shea to release West’s account.

“The mayor’s actions have significantly suppressed speech in a public forum and at a time of intense public controversy over the use of force by law enforcement and systematic racism, which prevented the plaintiff from participating in a solid public debate,” it said in the complaint.

Shea has been criticized for their actions on Facebook by the Thurgood Marshall Bar Assn., Orange County’s only Black Bar Association, the Knight First Amendment Institute, and the ACLU in Southern California.

“If government officials make clear use of social media in their governmental capabilities, if they allow comments, they cannot discriminate based on the content of those comments,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel and 1st Amendment Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, said in June. “Government officials can act as individuals and use social media as individuals. In these cases, they are free to choose whether they want to delete or allow comments, or choose or choose between them.

“There is quite a bit of official content on both of them [Shea’s] Pages, and we have serious concerns about Mayor Shea’s blocking comments on one of their Facebook sites. “

In June, Jessica Ortega, who lives in Irvine, said she was blocked after posting comments on Shea’s personal Facebook page. She said she knew a few others who had also been blocked for critical comments on Shea, who could be re-elected in November.

“If I can’t express myself to my own mayor about change, I don’t feel like my voice is ever heard,” Ortega said at the time.

Brazil writes for Times Community News

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