On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that the constitutional rights of an Ohio elected official were violated when she was arrested for criticizing the sheriff at a public meeting, AP reported.
U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled that the arrest violated the First Amendment.
Niki Frenchko, the sole Republican on the three-member Trumbull County Board of Commissioners, was arrested during a commissioners’ meeting on July 7, 2022.
She was charged under a contentious Ohio law that criminalizes actions or speech intended to “prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting.”
This law has been criticized for its vague language concerning “obstructive conduct” and its potential to outrage the sensibilities of a group. The charge against Frenchko was eventually dismissed.
The arrest, which Frenchko broadcasted live on Facebook, sparked widespread controversy and led to her filing a federal civil rights lawsuit.
She claimed her arrest was a direct infringement of her constitutional right to free speech and argued that there was no probable cause for her detention.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Federal judge rules firmly on the side of the Constitution after an elected official was arrested after criticizing the sheriff at a public meeting. pic.twitter.com/rFwnwWmNbz
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U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese, in his ruling, emphatically stated, “Here in America, we do not arrest our political opponents.” He underscored the importance of the constitutional protections for free speech, particularly the right to criticize public officials and representatives.
Calabrese held that the sheriff, two deputies, and the two county commissioners named in the lawsuit, one of whom has since left the board, are personally liable for damages. A subsequent hearing will determine the extent of these damages.
Judge Calabrese pointed out that the evidence clearly demonstrated that Frenchko’s arrest was a consequence of her speech, and he rejected the defendants’ claims to immunity from damages. He emphasized that any reasonable official should know that arresting someone for protected speech is a violation of the First Amendment.
Read more here.