By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — Jeffrey Clay, who was arrested and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct while speaking at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen in February 2015, was awarded $42,500 by the town of Alton in settlement of the federal civil rights suit he brought against the town for violating his constitutional right to freedom of speech.
“I’m so happy my case is finally over,” Clay said in a prepared statement. He said that following his arrest he did not attend meetings of local boards for fear he would again be arrested and prosecuted. “I feel like I can now attend and exercise my free speech rights without harassment and prosecution.”
During the 2015 meeting, Clay called on members of the selectboard to resign, referred to their “poor actions,” “poor decisions” and “continued violations of the citizens’ rights here in Alton.” Less than a minute into his remarks, Clay was interrupted by a selectman who called his remarks “character assassination” and requested a point of order to curtail public input because of Clay’s the “libelous” and “defamatory” statements. Clay, who was allotted five minutes to speak, continued and, after four minutes passed, he was arrested by the cheif of police.
In March, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire advised the town that by suppressing Clay’s speech it had engaged in censorship in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, the town continued to prosecute Clay for one count of disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $1,200.
In June 2015, Judge James Carroll of the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division dismissed the charge against Clay, calling the town’s conduct “pure censorship.” Carroll was honored with a Quill & Ink Award by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications for his staunch defense of the right to freedom of speech.
Clay then filed suit against the town in United States District Court, where he was represented by Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, with assistance from Jared Bedrick of the Bedrick Law Offices. “In a free society,” said Bissonnette in a prepared statement, “governmental officials are required to tolerate harsh criticism and even a demeaning attitude toward them, including viewpoints that can feel like character assassination, and cannot discriminate based on these critical viewpoints.”
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 989