McCain staffer could testify in Mohave County cases

KINGMAN - A staffer for Sen. John McCain may testify in the ongoing cases between Mohave County and two Golden Valley residents.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution granting a request from Mohave County to allow Gina Gormley, an employee in McCain's office, to testify in the cases of Kanelos v. County of Mohave and Zanna v. Mohave County.

The resolution was sponsored by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nevada and Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

Golden Valley resident Luca Zanna filed a federal lawsuit against the county, the three county supervisors, the county manager and county Civil Attorney Bill Ekstrom in August 2010.

He claims that the county and its officials violated his First Amendment rights in November 2009 when Supervisor Buster Johnson asked him to stop passing out fliers during a town hall meeting McCain was holding at the County Administration Building. Gormley allegedly witnessed the exchange between Zanna and Johnson. Zanna also claims that McCain staffers were allowed to pass out information.

Zanna also alleges that the county policy prohibiting political activity, which was approved in written form by the Board of Supervisors in March, is a violation of the First and 14th Amendments.

In his original lawsuit, Zanna also stated that County Manager Ron Walker and Supervisor Tom Sockwell made libelous statements in letters that were published in county newspapers. Zanna has since dropped that part of his case.

Kanelos Suit

Jim Kanelos filed a similar suit in federal court in May 2010. He alleges that he was denied his 1st Amendment right to assembly when Johnson stopped Zanna from passing out flyers.

He also alleges that there was a conspiracy among county officials to create a policy that would prevent residents from passing out political information on county grounds or expressing their 1st Amendment rights to free speech. As evidence of the conspiracy, Kanelos points to statements made by the Board of Supervisors in support of County Manager Ron Walker and written policies approved by the Board regarding guns in county buildings, appropriate dress code for residents visiting county buildings and prohibiting the distribution of political material on county grounds.

He also alleges that the county violated residents' 1st Amendment rights when it did not hold a public meeting to discuss the changes to the county policy. Kanelos is asking for $42 million in damages.

U.S. District Court Judge G. Murry Snow dismissed most of Kanelos' claims, saying that he didn't provide enough proof that he had been injured by the county's actions and that he had not provided a way of redressing any damages the county might have made through its actions.

He also ruled that Kanelos' right to assemble at the town hall meeting was not violated, Snow said, but perhaps his right to accept information was. Kanelos' conspiracy claims against county officials were a criminal matter and not a civil one and he did not suggest a state law that the county violated when it didn't hold a public hearing on the policy change. The judge also ruled that Kanelos didn't state a plausible claim of actual or imminent injury with regard to the new policies, and that Kanelos couldn't claim punitive damages against public officials if they were acting in their official capacity.

Snow did leave Kanelos the option to amend his complaint to show more proof of damages to his civil rights, and to provide a means of redressing those alleged damages.