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Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Douglas Co. Commissioner Over Free Speech Violations

A federal lawsuit has been filed against a Douglas County Commissioner who breached a settlement agreement he and his attorney entered into back in May of this year.

A federal lawsuit has been filed against a Douglas County Commissioner who breached a settlement agreement he and his attorney entered into back in May of this year.

Douglas County Commissioner Kelly Robinson is being sued by Douglas County resident Brenda Bohanan over First Amendment violations, ones that were supposedly resolved in May before Robinson and his attorney, former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, backtracked on the terms of the very agreement they drafted and negotiated

In February of this year, Robinson blocked Bohanan on two Facebook accounts on which he conducted official business, prompting Bohanan to send a letter to Robinson, copying Douglas County Attorney Ken Bernard, requesting that Robinson unblock her on the basis of a number of court rulings – including one by the U.S. Supreme Court – which held that public officials cannot bar access to their accounts, even personal profiles, if the page or profile is used in an official capacity. When Robinson refused, Bohanan solicited the help of constitutional attorney Gerry Weber and Claire Norins of UGA’s First Amendment Clinic who sent a demand letter to Robinson on March 31. 

Weber and Olens had a handful of back and forth discussions on negotiations and Olens ultimately drafted a settlement agreement on behalf of Commissioner Robinson to handle the matter outside of court. In the agreement, Robinson assumed no liability and admitted to no claims of wrongdoing, but agreed to paid Bohanan $750, to pay legal fees for Bohanan in the amount of $1,750 (for a total of $2,500), and to unblock and discontinue the practice of blocking and censoring citizens within 24 hours of the execution of the agreement. 

Only wanting to be unblocked, Bohanan agreed to the terms of the settlement agreement put forth by Olens and Robinson on May 25th. But Robinson failed to adhere to the terms of the agreement and Bohanan – and possibly others – remained blocked. Worse, Robinson changed the URL and the name of the Facebook accounts so the identifiers do not match those referenced in the communication between attorneys regarding the settlement order. Robinson then retained someone to ‘clean up his social media accounts’ and delete official business from at least one of them – an act frowned upon by Georgia statute in the Open Records Act and the Georgia Archives record retention schedule. 

In early June, Bohanan expressed her frustration over Robinson’s refusal to comply with an agreement his own attorney drafted and with no resolution, her attorneys filed suit in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia. The civil suit seeks a jury trial 

The courts established that citizens have a First Amendment right to interact with government officials in a political forum. In both a 1997 case (Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc) and the noteworthy Packingham v. North Carolina case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the internet and social media have been deemed public forums in the same traditional sense as parks and streets. 

In Georgia alone, a number of cases have been settled by government officials, including Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, the Worth County Sheriff’s Office, and others resolved after demand letters by the ACLU, including Georgia Congressmen Drew Ferguson, Barry Loudermilk, and John Lewis, State Senator John Albers, and the Henry County Police Department

AllOnGeorgia filed an Open Records Request Tuesday, seeking the expenditure reports for any and all legal fees paid by Douglas County to defend Commissioner Robinson in this matter.

Commissioner Kelly Robinson can be reached by email at kgrobinson@co.douglas.ga.us or by phone at 770.920.7266. You can also contact him by Facebook on his Facebook page ‘Commissioner Kelly Robinson.’ 

You can read the lawsuit here.

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