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9/13/2012 6:00:00 AM
Free speech rulings say yes - and no

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

Residents can pass out information in front of the Mohave County Administration building but not inside of it, according to a pair of rulings issued by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow.

The rulings came after two years of First Amendment wrangling, and while the legal drama has ended for now, litigants noted the mixed results.

"It's really kind of confusing. I'm not sure what to make of it," said Golden Valley resident Jim Kanelos. He won his lawsuit against the county, which he filed in late 2010 after former County Risk Manager Richard Weldon asked him to stop passing out copies of the U.S. Constitution in front of the county building in October of that year.

The county argued that people passing out flyers in front of the doors might annoy people entering the building or that they might think the person represented the county. County officials also argued that allowing people to pass out information could increase the amount of litter in the area.

Snow ruled the county didn't have a legitimate reason for preventing people from passing out flyers in front of the building as long as they weren't interfering with the flow of traffic. He also stated that it was unlikely that anyone would think a private person passing out information in front of the building was representing the county.

The county also failed to prove that Kanelos, or anyone else passing out Constitutions that day, made it difficult for people to enter the building, Snow said.

He had a different ruling in a case brought by Luca Zanna, who is also a Golden Valley resident.

He sued the county in August 2010, alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when Board of Supervisors Chairman Buster Johnson asked him to stop passing out leaflets at a town hall meeting with Sen. John McCain inside the county building in November 2009.

In court, Zanna and his wife, Bridget, argued that when McCain opened the floor to questions about events in Washington, D.C., it created a public forum. That meant the prohibition on passing out leaflets was an unreasonable restriction, his case stated.

Snow disagreed. He ruled that the question-and-answer period during McCain's town hall meeting did not turn the building into a public forum. The county's restrictions on passing out leaflets at the town hall were reasonable and neutral, he said.

Someone passing out papers during a meeting might distract people from the speaker's message, he said in his ruling.

"I'm not surprised. I was prepared for this," Zanna said. "This is the trend the county is going in. We're under a soft marshal law. We're just allowed on county property to be good slaves and pay our property taxes."

"But I'm happy I did what I did," he said, because it drew attention to the issue and brought in new people to run for the Board of Supervisors.

"Only thing I regret is we didn't go for a jury trial," Zanna said. "Not about winning. It's about fighting back."

He hasn't decided if he will appeal the ruling.

ICT - Trotters RV
Related Stories:
• Golden Valley Fire Department holding memorial for former director Kanelos
• Mohave officials: Hats at meetings okay; we'll get back to you on guns
• Zanna amends lawsuit against Mohave County
• Judge gives Kanelos final chance to prove damages
• Zanna files complaint in district court

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2012
Article comment by: Warren O

'The county argued that people passing out flyers in front of the doors might annoy people entering the building or that they might think the person represented the county.'

Given the county's penchant for annoying the citizenry, I can see why they'd be worried that people would think the flyer-distributors represented the county.

We're far from being under martial law, though, soft or otherwise.

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Article comment by: V Stokes

Well...let's look at this slightly differently.

If you were having an NRA meeting...would you want someone passing out Handgun Control pamphlets inside the venue? Would it be ok for them to pass them out outside the door?

Back in VA, you often saw political parties at a table outside the door of the DMV, City and State offices, etc.....they could not do it inside. As long as they did not obstruct traffic in and was perfectly legal. If they had gone inside to solicit people..they would have been booted out or cited if they didn't cease and desist. How hard is this for some people to understand?

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Article comment by: desert dweller speech is not allowed "in" OUR buildings...the ones WE own, the ones WE paid for, the ones OUR employees work in that think WE answer to them.....TIME FOR SOME MIGHTY BIG CHANGES IN THIS COUNTRY! imho

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