The Berkeley County School Board chairman was right to remind speakers that they are responsible for their own comments, according to his lawyers.
Additionally, Facebook comments show that those who filed a lawsuit against Chairman Kent Murray were not intimidated by his comments, according to Murray’s lawyers, Andrew Halio and John Reagle.
Former board member Terry Hardesty and Berkeley County residents Linda Riney and Nancy Corbin filed the suit against Murray, individually and in his official capacity, on June 26, claiming that Murray violated their right to free speech when he changed the board’s “Public Participation in Board Meetings” policy without a vote or notice, a violation of the state Freedom of Information Act.
The suit seeks to have Murray’s actions and the policy declared unconstitutional,
Since the suit was filed, Murray has asked that it be dismissed, and Hardesty, Corbin and Riney asked for a summary judgment, which would dispose of the case quickly. Both sides filed responses to the other’s request this week.
Murray has said he unilaterally changed the policy before the June 11 meeting to include the ban on comments about the State Law Enforcement Division’s investigation into alleged ethics violations during last year’s Yes 4 Schools campaign because the investigation “is ongoing and confidential, and because matters connected to the investigation may come before the Board for action.”
After Hardesty was stopped from talking June 11, he threatened legal action against the board. On June 25, Murray said he would not stop speakers but that they were “personally responsible for what they say.”
Hardesty, Riney and Corbin said at the time they felt intimated by Murray’s comment, but Wednesday’s legal response says that comments posted on Facebook on June 11 are “not expressions of confusion about the meaning of the board’s policy or fear of government retaliation or embarrassment.”
In the comments, Corbin wrote, “Sorry we missed this one, sounds like fun,” and Riney wrote, “I’d really like to see these people stop me from speaking.”
In their Monday response to Murray’s motion to dismiss the case, lawyers Robert F. Goings and Josh Whitley said only those who are against the district’s actions have had their speech suppressed.
Both sides will now have the opportunity to reply to this week’s motions or U.S. District Judge Richard Gergle could decide to issue a decision in the case.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or twitter.com/brindge.