Cleveland — On Dec. 28, an Ohio Court ordered Maple Heights, Ohio Mayor Jeffery Lansky and his attorney to pay $9,395 in attorney’s fees and costs to internet critics they sued to silence.
In 2014, Lansky and his attorney, Brent English, filed a lawsuit for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, demanding “an amount in excess of $25,000” from Bill and Lynde Brownlee, husband and wife, after they questioned Lansky’s job performance on their blog, Maple Heights News.
The 1851 Center took up the case and the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas ruled for the family in late 2015. The court explained that “a primary purpose of the First Amendment is to encourage self-government by permitting comment and criticism of those charged with its leadership.”
Yesterday, the Court finalized the case, ordering the sanctions pursuant to two Ohio statues prohibiting “frivolous conduct” in litigation, Ohio Revised Code Section 2323.51 and Civil Rule 11.
“Those who would use the courts to silence their political opponents should take this ruling seriously,” explained Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.
“When criticizing public officials, Ohioans should not be bullied into silence for fear of an expensive lawsuit. Often, the possibility of an economic penalty such as this is the only means of persuading Ohio governments and local officials to respect constitutional rights.”
The Brownlees had written a short web article in the summer of 2014 questioning whether the Mayor had kept all of his campaign promises, and further questioning his tax and spending policies. The article strictly addressed the Mayor’s policies, and did not use insulting or harsh language. One prominent undercurrent to the case concerned whether political comments on citizen websites would be entitled to the same level of protection as mainstream news commentary.
Lansky v. Brownlee was litigated by the 1851 Center in cooperation with attorneys David Tryon and Brodie Butland of the law firm of Porter Wright in Cleveland, Ohio.
Information for this story was provided by the Columbus-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.
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