BOSSIER CITY, La. (AP) — A man who posts news about northwest Louisiana politics and government on a website he founded has filed a federal lawsuit accusing local officials of squelching his speech with unconstitutional threats to remove him from public meetings where he questions their actions.
Weston Merriott’s lawsuit against Bossier City, two members of the city council and the city attorney also accuses officials of singling out critics of the council by threatening them with removal from council meetings under policies against “slanderous” comments.
None of the defendants had filed a response to the lawsuit as of Thursday afternoon. And the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment emailed to the city clerk’s office.
The officials “allow boisterous, personal, impertinent, or slanderous remarks in speech by some but do not allow the same for Merriott and others who have criticized the councilmembers’ handling of certain agenda items,” the lawsuit, filed Monday in Shreveport, alleges. It says council members falsely accused Merriott of being “disruptive” at a Sept. 5 meeting during which he raised questions about council members’ action on a petition from a group favoring term limits.
The lawsuit also alleges council members met privately to discuss a proposal to limit public comment at council meetings.
“The proposed resolution to eliminate public comment on agenda items is retaliatory against Plaintiff Merriott. It serves to silence the core political speech of Plaintiff Merriott,” says the lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the Tulane First Amendment Clinic in New Orleans.
Aside from seeking an unspecified amount of compensation for damages and attorney fees, the lawsuit seeks a court declaration that the officials violated the First Amendment, as well as Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law; a block on the city enforcing rules that curtail speech; training for the city council on First Amendment rights; and removal from the minutes of a Sept. 5 council meeting that accuse Merriott of being disruptive.
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