Corrales Mayor Settles ACLU Free Speech Lawsuit on Behalf of Resident Silenced at Public Forum

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
July 26, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of New Mexico
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ALBUQUERQUE — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico today settled a lawsuit against Mayor Gary Kanin of Corrales, filed on behalf of a resident who was unconstitutionally silenced by the mayor during a public forum.

At the April 27 Corrales Village Council meeting, Mayor Kanin threatened to have police remove Steve Simmons from the meeting if he continued reading a prepared statement that criticized the mayor’s run for a seat on the Sandoval County Commission and his announcement that he would not relinquish his mayoral post if he were elected to the commission. The mayor’s actions drew criticism from council members and the ACLU called on Kanin to issue a public apology.

“When the mayor refused to make an apology, we were forced to bring a lawsuit to set things right,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “The lawsuit was simply a tool to remind the mayor of the primacy of the First Amendment over his executive power.”

Although the mayor still has not apologized for the incident, ACLU Attorney Hope Eckert feels that the lawsuit accomplished what the ACLU and Simmons intended.

“Since the incident with Mr. Simmons, people have gotten up to speak at the Village Council meetings and voiced even more critical opinions about Mayor Kanin than what Mr. Simmons attempted to express,” said Eckert. “The mayor has refrained from trying to silence his critics. Combined with the fact that he moved to settle the lawsuit very quickly, it appears that the mayor heard our message loud and clear. Justice has been restored.”

The settlement calls for payment of Simmons’ attorney’s fees as well as a symbolic amount of $750 in damages, which Simmons intends to donate to the ACLU and the Corrales Bosque Commission for fire protection. Simmons also plans to address the mayor and Village Council at their July 27 meeting.

“Since the mayor did not have the courage to publicly admit his error, I want to establish at the Council meeting that nothing like this should ever happen again,” Simmons said. “The U.S. Constitution is the highest law of the land. The mayor’s primary obligation as a public servant is to uphold that law, even if it means exposing himself to unwanted public criticism.”

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