Tulsa City Hall: March 2009 Archives

One of the stories that broke while I was focused on the day job involved Tulsa City Councilor Eric Gomez's threats to sue Julie Hall of Who Owns Tulsa? over her criticism of his actions as a councilor. You may have missed it, too, so here's the KOTV News on 6 video, from March 3, 2009:

In a March 2, 2009, e-mail, Hall wrote:

Attached is a letter from Councilor Gomez' attorney threatening to sue me for defamation and my attorney's response. The threat was prompted by my role in coordinating a recall petition against Councilor Gomez and related criticisms of his actions as a public official.

This release is in part a response to the threats against a citizen who reported a possible ethics violation regarding two city councilors. One of my concerns is that the initial response from the City Council included the implied threat of legal action. It would appear that the biggest mistake the citizen made was giving his name rather than reporting his concerns anonymously.

As citizens, we have First Amendment rights. These rights are so important that with respect to public officials and their acts, Oklahoma law protects these communications unless they falsely impute a crime to the officer criticized. Under federal law, speech concerning public officials is actionable only if it is false, defamatory, and made with actual malice.

The Gomez letter was issued after the recall was denied; after I had announced that another petition effort would not be pursued; and after Councilor Gomez stated publicly that he hoped we could put it behind us.

Although I was the direct recipient of the threat, it wasn't limited to me. Councilor Gomez threatened to sue "any and all persons acting in concert with me". This could include the officers of Who Owns Tulsa, anyone who has attended a meeting, or written a check. It could also include every citizen who signed the recall petition.

Lawsuits can financially devastate those involved, and the threat of such lawsuits has a chilling effect on free speech. Lawsuits designed to silence opposition on public issues are known nationally as SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) suits, and several states have passed legislation to protect their citizens from such threats. You rarely hear of threatened SLAPP suits because they are so effective, but they happen more often than you might think.

Councilor Gomez is gearing up for an election year. In my opinion, any Councilor who would sue or threaten to sue constituents for criticizing his official actions should not be re-elected. I encourage you to ask your Councilor if you too are at risk of a lawsuit if you criticize his official conduct.

No Tulsan should live in fear that the mere expression of an opinion and participation in public forums or processes is grounds for legal action. We will never agree on every issue, but free speech and the First Amendment belong to us all.

After the jump, the letter that Gomez's attorney sent to Hall, and the reply from Hall's attorney.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from March 2009.

Tulsa City Hall: February 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: April 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]