Settlement Reached In Lawsuit Challenging Advertising Policy at R.I. Airport

March 26, 2001 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.-The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought on behalf of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) against the state airport corporation for censoring an advertisement that the fraternal organization sought to install at T.F. Green Airport earlier this year.

The lawsuit, which the ACLU filed last month, argued that the airport’s censorship and its lack of any clear standards governing “acceptable” advertising violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.

“We are very pleased with the settlement we have reached in this case, as it is designed to prevent any future arbitrary censorship of advertisements at the Airport,” said Lynette Labinger, a volunteer attorney for the ACLU of Rhode Island. “We congratulate the Airport Authority for promptly recognizing its responsibilities to the Constitution after presentation of our lawsuit.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the airport corporation has agreed to allow RIBCO to install the censored ad at the airport through the end of June, 2002 at no cost to RIBCO. The settlement further allows RIBCO to renew its advertising lease unless the airport adopts formal written regulations, pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, governing airport advertising. The agreement also awards $9,000 in attorneys’ fees to the ACLU for its work in the case.

The censored ad was part of a media campaign RIBCO initiated earlier this year in opposition to the state’s announced plans to establish a “community corrections” program. The advertisement contains a photograph of an obscured individual behind bars with the caption “Meet Your New Next-door Neighbor,” Rico’s logo, and the message “Stop Community Corrections before it starts.”

The ad appeared on billboards around the state, but airport officials had rejected it on the grounds that it was “negative” and “political.”

In its place, the airport allowed installation of a revised version of the ad, containing only the union’s logo and the message “Stop Community Corrections before it starts.” That ad has been running since May. However, RIBCO claimed that in the stripped-down version, RIBCO’s message “lost its punch and most of its meaning” by stating the union’s opposition to community corrections without conveying the reason for it.

The lawsuit was brought by ACLU of Rhode Island volunteer attorneys Labinger and Christopher Corbett.

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