ACLU Defends Citizen Journalist in Civil Lawsuit
CINCINNATI- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced today that it will provide representation to James Jay Schifrin, publisher of a satirical Cincinnati-area electronic newsletter called the Whistleblower. In late August 2010, Schifrin was sued by local attorney, radio host, author, and restaurateur Eric Deters alleging that Schifrin libeled him in an article in the Whistleblower. Deters has filed several other similar lawsuits against various public officials that have subsequently been dismissed. Today, the ACLU of Ohio will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit pending in Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas against Mr. Schifrin on the basis that it was filed to suppress his First Amendment rights.
ACLU of Ohio Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood said, “Citizens have a nearly absolute right to criticize public figures without fear that they will be slapped with unnecessary lawsuits. Clearly, Mr. Deters is using the courts to intimidate Mr. Schifrin and others from speaking out against him. People must not manipulate the courts to silence those whose speech they may not like.”
“Even more importantly, James Schifrin is a publisher. His work is specifically protected by the First Amendment. As a member of the alternative press, Mr. Schifrin must have the freedom to publish stories on issues that he believes are valuable to the community,” added Greenwood. “If the alternative media is intimidated from reporting on some stories because of the threat of lawsuits, the risk of corruption grows exponentially.”
The lawsuit was filed against Schifrin after he published a story in the Whistleblower that Deters claims insinuates he and his assistant, a former client whose acquittal he secured on statutory rape charges last year, were romantically involved. Schifrin has previously written other stories about Deters, including allegations of court sanctions against him and investigations conducted by the Kentucky Bar Association.
Deters also recently filed two similar lawsuits in Kentucky against Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders and County Attorney Garry Edmondson for comments they made about him.
“Courts cannot be a tool to suppress anyone’s First Amendment rights,” Greenwood concluded. “The answer to speech we do not like or agree with is not to silence the speaker, but to counter with more speech. Democracy is a marketplace of ideas where people can decide for themselves what to believe, and we must preserve everyone’s right to speak out on issues of public importance.”