Thursday, January 8, 2015

Union County ordered to pay activist's attorney fees.

On January 6, 2015, United States Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer recommended that Union County pay over $40,000 in attorney fees and costs to a Cranford activist whose freedom of speech was "chilled" by the County's demand that she stop using the County Seal on her public access cable television show. Manner's decision is on-line here.

Activist Tina Renna's television show, “Union County Citizen’s Forum," which is often critical of the Union County Board of Freeholders, displayed a graphic depicting a light shining on the Seal of Union County.  The County applied for a trademark on its seal and was denied.  Despite the denial, the County sent Renna a letter that incorrectly stated that the seal was “now trademarked under federal law." The County also advised Renna that use of the seal on her show was a criminal act.

With the help of the Rutherford Institute's attorney Douglas R. McKursick, Jr. and New Jersey attorneys Walter M. Luers and F. Michael Daily, Renna successfully sued Union County. In rebuke to the County, the court ruled that it was “hard to discern any purpose, other than general intimidation, for the citation of [a] criminal statute to [Plaintiff who was] represented by counsel."  

Hammer found that Renna's was an "exceptional case" that warranted the award of attorney fees of $39,535 plus costs of $550.65.  While Hammer's decision is a recommendation, it becomes final unless the County objects within
fourteen days.

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