Settlement in ACLU Lawsuit Protects Free Speech
CINCINNATI- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced that a settlement was reached between Whistleblower publisher James Jay Schifrin, and local attorney, radio host, author, and restaurateur Eric Deters. In late August 2010, Schifrin was sued by Deters alleging that Schifrin libeled him in an article in the satirical Whistleblower. The ACLU of Ohio agreed to represent Schifrin in November 2010 on the basis that Deters’ lawsuit was filed to suppress Schifrin’s First Amendment rights. As part of the settlement, Schifrin agreed to publish the facts of the case in an upcoming edition of the Whistleblower and to publish a response from Deters in that edition.
ACLU of Ohio Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood said, “This resolution benefits everyone involved—Mr. Schifrin’s First Amendment rights have been upheld and Mr. Deters may express his point of view. It is unfortunate that this did not happen from the onset. The solution to speech we do not like or agree with is more speech, not less.”
“Above and beyond Mr. Schifrin’s personal free speech rights, he is also a publisher and a member of the alternative press,” added Greenwood. “Citizen journalists have a long record as government watchdogs that sound the alarm when abuse occurs. By intimidating members of the media from reporting on some stories because of the threat of lawsuits, the risk of corruption grows exponentially.”
Deters’ 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.
The ACLU of Ohio and Deters submitted the settlement to the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas on October 27, 2011. As part of the settlement, Deters releases Schifrin of any legal liability because of his previous comments.
“Political satire is a centuries-old tradition that has been used by visionaries like Mark Twain, Aristophanes, and Jonathon Swift. While the merits of Mr. Schifrin’s stories may be debatable, his right to publish those ideas is not,” Greenwood concluded. “In addition, the courts should be used to protect and expand our constitutional rights, not silence those contributing to civic discourse. In the future, I hope Mr. Deters exercises his First Amendment rights instead of using the courts to attempt to curtail someone else’s.”