The Irvine City Council has agreed to pay Irvine Community News & Views (ICNV) $350,000 to settle claims that it intentionally violated this newspaper’s free speech, free press, and equal protection rights.
Beginning in early 2015, ICNV publisher Franklin J. Lunding sought to place copies of ICNV in the news racks located in the Irvine City Hall lobby, alongside other free newspapers allowed there, including the Irvine World News, a publication of the Orange County Register, which is friendly to the politicians at City Hall. In an act of hostility, the City repeatedly refused to allow display of ICNV, asserting ICNV was a “political related publication.”
According to publisher Lunding, “From the beginning, it was apparent that certain City Councilmembers and City management officials, motivated by animus, were discriminating against ICNV because of the paper’s frequent criticism of the Mayor and City Council, and what we believe to be their misguided policies.” Lunding continued, “Of course, criticism of government — at City Hall and elsewhere — is the time-honored role of a free press in a free society.”
After fruitless negotiations lasting nearly a year, ICNV hired attorneys Fredric Woocher and Jenna Miara of Strumwasser & Woocher LLP, and sued the City in the Federal District Court in February 2016, alleging violation of the newspaper’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as the right to equal protection under the State and U.S. Constitutions. Since that filing, instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing and taking corrective action, the City spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds fighting the lawsuit. First, the City tried to have the case dismissed — a move that was denied in a stinging order and ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford; next, the City demanded extensive and unnecessary discovery in an obvious attempt to overwhelm ICNV with legal fees.
In June 2017, after adding yet another lawyer to the four already defending it, the City requested mediation. The mediation resulted in the City of Irvine agreeing to pay ICNV a settlement in the amount of $350,000, and agreeing to a revision in the City’s policies, recognizing that ICNV and other newspapers must be treated equally at City Hall and in other City facilities — there can be no discrimination based on whether City officials like or dislike the “political” content of a newspaper. The City also agreed to allow lawyers to monitor the publications permitted at City facilities for a year to prevent future discrimination.