Free Speech Always A Concern of ACLU

The ACLU-NJ has recently taken on a number of new free speech cases. Cooperating attorney Anthony Ambrosio represents a defendant in one of two SLAPP suits. The acronym refers to Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which are typically defamation suits brought against people who speak out on matters of public concern. The suits are often dismissed prior to trial, but the defendants may be bankrupted by their legal fees, and are intimidated into keeping quiet. Our first case concerns Deborah Ehling, president of a volunteer ambulance corps consortium, who has been sued by the Town of Secaucus, its mayor and municipal council, and by the Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC), for statements she made to the press and in letters to various local, state, and federal officials regarding alleged improprieties in Secaucus' award of its ambulance service contract to JCMC. We are also involved in a criminal case under the New Jersey harassment statute, which we unsuccessfully opposed as facially vague and overbroad in State v. Mortimer. As we feared, and argued, the language of the statute can be applied to a wide range of speech that is clearly protected under the First Amendment, as has happened to one of our clients. Arie Edery has been charged with harassment because he placed a sign on his home criticizing his neighbor for obtaining a court-ordered easement across Edery's property. Volunteer attorney Richard Stanzione is representing Edery at the municipal court level, arguing that the sign is protected speech.

The ACLU is involved as amicus in another criminal case raising free speech concerns. William Kane, a union official, was arrested for disrupting a public meeting when he attempted to get the chair's attention after being denied the opportunity to speak because the microphone operator didn't like his comments. Volunteer attorney Frank Corrado filed an amicus brief on February 2, and participated in oral argument on March 1 in Mr. Kane's appeal of his municipal court conviction. Unfortunately, Judge Coleman of the Somerset County Superior Court upheld the conviction. Mr. Kane's attorneys have said they will appeal, and the ACLU will consider filing an an amicus brief in the Appellate Division as well.

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