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Several Encinitas residents claim Mayor Catherine Blakespear has prevented them from interacting with her mayoral Facebook page, which they believe is a violation of their constitutional free speech rights.
Several Encinitas residents claim Mayor Catherine Blakespear has prevented them from interacting with her mayoral Facebook page, which they believe is a violation of their constitutional free speech rights. Courtesy photo
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Attorney demands Blakespear unblock critics from Facebook page

ENCINITAS — A local attorney issued a cease and desist letter on Tuesday night to Mayor Catherine Blakespear on behalf of multiple Encinitas residents whom she allegedly “blocked from participation, comments and involvement in matters of broad public interest” on her mayoral Facebook page in violation of their constitutionally protected free speech rights.

Michael Curran, attorney at Carlsbad-based law firm Curran & Curran Law, submitted the demand letter on behalf of Robert Nichols, former chairman of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, and several other “citizens rights advocates,” requesting Blakespear allow the residents the ability to freely exchange their views on her Facebook posts.

“The Curran & Curran Law firm has sent a cease and desist letter to Mayor Blakespear demanding that she unblock our clients and allow them access to free speech and assembly and participation in her mayoral Facebook page which she uses primarily for city business,” Curran told The Coast News.

The demand states that Blakespear’s actions of precluding certain individuals with opposing viewpoints from commenting on her official “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” Facebook page are discriminatory and infringe on their constitutionally protected rights to discuss matters of local interest in the “modern public square.”

The letter promises legal action if Blakespear continues to prevent individuals from commenting on her social media posts. Blakespear and her campaign managers did not respond to a request for comment.

Under “Basic Info” on her Facebook page, Blakespear outlines a number of page rules, noting the “views, postings, positions or opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not officially represent those of the City of Encinitas.”

The rules go on to state that the social media site is “subject to monitoring”  and “comments will be rejected or removed” if they contain obscenities, threatening or discriminatory language, personal attacks or if the content “is off-subject or out of context,” among several other guidelines.

“Any user who violates this policy may lose their ability to interact with our account and/or be reported to the platform authorities,” according to the page rules.

Nichols, an Encinitas property owner who has long been critical of Blakespear and currently lives in Oregon, said that many residents, including himself, turn to social media to directly interact with their elected officials on important matters. But if they are blocked, “you feel like you have no voice, that you don’t matter anymore and your questions and opinions don’t count.”

“We want accountability. When we don’t get answers or are ignored, we go to social media, hoping to find them,” Nichols said in a written statement. “Often that means we attempt to directly communicate with our city representative. And when a city representative, like Blakespear, doesn’t like the question you pose and blocks you from public dialogue, well then they’ve crossed that 1st Amendment line by taking away your right to free speech.

“It’s especially disappointing when the person who deletes your comments and blocks you, is always reminding everyone of just how important freedom of speech and expression are. It’s astonishing, it’s one of the biggest premises Blakespear runs her campaign on, yet she has no tolerance for dissenting opinions.”

BlakespearCeaseDesist

Several other Encinitas residents reportedly blocked from posting comments on Blakespear’s Facebook page issued statements to The Coast News.

“It saddens me that our mayor acts in such an exclusive and elitist fashion, using political and legal tactics to climb the political ladder at the cost of silencing the voices of citizens she was sworn to represent,” said resident Ruben Dario Flores.

Resident Matt Wheeler said Blakespear “always deleted my social media comments on her mayoral page and ultimately blocked me.”

Garvin Walsh, another Encinitas resident who was reportedly blocked, said the mayor’s actions are representative of her strong political persona.

“I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t surprised,” Walsh said. “I’m an antagonist and she doesn’t fool around. Beneath that smooth, congenial veneer, she’s playing hardball politics.”

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney at Coast Law Group, said the law is pretty clear about public officials restricting access to social media accounts.

“I’m sure Mayor Blakespear understands these requirements and will respond appropriately,” Gonzalez wrote in an email response to The Coast News.

Gonzalez also questioned the timing and motivation of the letter from Curran and some of Blakespear’s most vehement critics.

“It is not surprising in an election year that they would band together to try to create a political spectacle where one may not exist,” Gonzalez said.

The key element triggering a potential constitutional violation, according to several federal court cases involving social media and the First Amendment, is whether or not the public figure’s social media account is being used for personal use (family photos, personal achievements) or to promote and discuss duties related to their official capacity as an elected officeholder.

In this case, Blakespear’s use of a Facebook page as an elected official discussing city and regional business, events and projects, is subject to First Amendment protections, Curran argues in the letter.

“For generations, physical spaces – like public squares and town halls – have been critical forums for people to speak out on issues of public importance,” Curran writes. “But with the rise of social media, the avenues for members of the public to speak with their elected officials have expanded. Facebook comments and Twitter retweets are replacing the public meeting. That means (public officials) cannot engage in most forms of censorship, such as blocking someone or deleting someone’s comments just because of their subject/opinion.”

Many of the photos and posts shared on her Facebook page, labeled the “campaign page for Mayor Catherine Blakespear, candidate for California State Senate District 38,” feature Blakespear engaging in activities or discussing issues as mayor of Encinitas, including several posts where she urges residents to speak in support of agenda items before the Encinitas City Council.

David Snyder, attorney and executive director of First Amendment Coalition, said over the past five years, judges have imported the “public forum doctrine” into social media platforms when determining constitutional speech restrictions. Specifically, when a public official creates a social media account that is primarily devoted to discussing public business, they’ve created a public forum.

“Under the First Amendment, when there is a public forum, there are limitations on what public officials can do to limit expression,” Snyder told The Coast News. “But the government cannot discriminate based on viewpoint. They cannot block speech because they disagree with you on a position. If the only thing talked about is public business and the officeholder lists themselves as ‘Mayor Joe Smith,’ that will likely be found to constitute a public forum and to limit the official’s ability to block people arbitrarily based on their political views.”

Snyder said each case may vary depending on how the public official uses their social media account, noting that courts acknowledge public figures also have private lives.

In Virginia, Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, banned one of her constituents Brian Davison from the “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page after he posted a comment alleging corruption on the school board.

The court ruled Randall’s actions were unconstitutional, writing in part, “Although neither the Supreme Court nor any Circuit has squarely addressed whether, and in what circumstances, a governmental social media page — like the Chair’s Facebook Page — constitutes a public forum, aspects of the Chair’s Facebook Page bear the hallmarks of a public forum.

“Randall’s decision to ban Davison because of his allegation of governmental corruption constitutes black-letter viewpoint discrimination. Put simply, Randall unconstitutionally sought to ‘suppress’ Davison’s opinion that there was corruption on the School Board.”

Perhaps more famously, the Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia University filed a lawsuit in 2017 against then-President Donald Trump for blocking his critics on his Twitter account, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled violated the First Amendment.

“The interactive component of the President’s Twitter account, as opposed to the President’s tweets themselves, constituted a designated public forum.”

While the mayor’s supporters may question the letter, Snyder said the primary avenue for residents to ensure their elected officials and governments are complying with the First Amendment is in the courts.

“There isn’t a roving enforcement body that hands out tickets for violations,” Snyder said. “You bring a lawsuit, that’s the ultimate answer.”

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7 comments

Deb1949 April 14, 2022 at 10:51 am

I am just learning of this and while it is entirely unacceptable for any elected official to act in such childish and irresponsible manner, I have to say, it’s not shocking. Mrs. Blakespear had our support for a few years, but her poor decision making has had our family and neighbors seriously questioning who she is really working for, the people of Encinitas or her big campaign donors.

I can’t help but wonder if her actions of blocking, deleting and hiding any comments and/or people that challenged her position had a significant impact on the last Mayoral election. If I remember correctly, Blakespear won by just a few hundred votes. Perhaps, Mrs. Julie Thunder would have been the legitimate elected Mayor had both sides been rightfully heard and discussed. We’ll never know, however, now that she’s running for senate, I feel it’s imperative that voters across District 38 are made aware of the slimy campaign tactics Blakespear uses. I commend Mr. Rob Nichols and the others residents for standing up for what’s right. Something Blakespear should take notes on!

If these allegations are true and she has been stifling the residents constitutional rights, she should be ordered to immediately resign from any current political seats she holds as well as drop out of the senate race.

I would love to see some follow ups on this story!

MCurran April 14, 2022 at 10:40 am

All good comments and my clients and I thank you for your support of their first amendment free speech guaranteed rights, except Ms. Clare. I understand you’re not a lawyer and you probably do not realize Mayor Blakespear does not get to post rules for on her Facebook page that violate the United States and California Constitutions. Mayor Blakespear unquestionably uses her Mayor Catherine Blakespear official Facebook page to conduct city/government business. Pursuant to Constitutional law, Supreme Court and Appellate Court precedential decisions, she cannot block citizens/suppress free speech on her page. They can post their opinions 10 times if they like. I suggest you re-search your comments before posting next time.

hector lopez April 14, 2022 at 9:22 am

I was at the city council meeting last night were Bruce Ehlers was terminated for alleged conflict of interest. One of the first things Mayor Blakespear outlined was how the speakers were to present their statements. It was an attempt to limit the presenter’s discussion, much like she is doing on her Facebook page. As an example, she arbitrarily reduced the allotted time of the speakers from 3 minutes to 2 minutes all under the pretext that there were too many speakers.
The fact is that not one speaker supported the firing of Bruce Ehlers and she knew that going in. The mayor simply wants to suppress the opinions of those who disagree with her and there are many.
Her apologists can say whatever they want but those of us who have watched Mayor Blakespear’s controlling behaviors know different. By the way, I voted for Blakespear in the last 3 elections, but no more.

steve333 April 13, 2022 at 4:39 pm

I feel as if a Mayor should be open to all of her constituents viewpoints, not just those that agree with her. By blocking me, she basically told me that my opinion as a citizen doesn’t matter.
Catherine Blakespear continually shows herself to be vindictive and acts as if she were anointed, not barely re-elected. If the Mayoral vote were to be held today she would lose in a landslide to Julie Thunder.
Add her firing of Bruce Ehlers for having the nerve to oppose her on a few of her developer owner’s high density projects completely our of scale with the neighborhoods they were going to be placed, and we have a ‘Mayor’ who wants nothing less than total control.
I have lived in NYC, LA and San Diego, all bastions of bad governance and Catherine Blakespear is the worst Mayor I have ever seen. She is the only one, other than her good buddy Todd Gloria, to declare war on the City she is supposed to work for. Note that I said ‘work for’, maybe her checking account Marco Gonzales can remind her that she works for us, not the other way around.
She will be gone in November and hopefully will lose handily to Matt Gunderson, who opposes State control over local housing. Blakespear, Gloria, Toni Atkins, Scott Weiner are all endorsed by the DNC (Developer National Committee) of California and are all in the pockets of Developer PACS, something Marco knows all too well. Her faithful lapdog Kranz will vote along with her to fire Bruce as will the other worthless wonders on the Council. Get rid of all of them.
Julie Thunder for District 3, Bruce Ehlers for District 4, Cindy Cremona or Jeff Morris for Mayor. Matt Gunderson for State Senate.
ABB

Lou Tappet April 13, 2022 at 4:23 pm

The mayor will respond once Gonzalez writes her script for her.

I’ve seen the mayor remove comments that simply corrected her skewed version of events. She calls such people “haters.” Watch tonight’s council meeting when at the behest of developers, she will remove a highly-respected planning commissioner from his post. He doesn’t represent her “values.”

Encinitas Lover April 13, 2022 at 3:08 pm

The Mayor is absolutely in the wrong here. She uses her Facebook page to conduct city business and campaign all at the same time. She can’t do that. When Blakespear begins advocating for certain agenda items, asking people to show up for council meeting and speak, discussing infrastructure bills, Streetscape, she’s made her page which happens to be titled “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” and “official page”. Multiple attorney including Civil Rights attorney agree with this in the article.

Mayor Blakespear can write all the rules she wants on her page, but she can’t block or delete posts no matter what questions people pose or comments they make. There are a lot of people that have been coming forward over the years complaining about being censored from making public comment on Mayor Blakespear’s Facebook page. So, I applaud Mr. Curran, Mr. Nichols and all those who came forward. They are sticking up for the residents right to free speech. No wonder Mr. Nichols and so many others have had difficulties with the city over the years, look at how they’ve been treated. This is a perfect example.

Finally, look at the scandals Blakespear is involved in. SANDAG accounting irregularities, Bruce Ehlers, etc etc etc and now this. When we have a Mayor who partakes in lavish dinners on the taxpayers dime and then refuses to talk about it with the media, I have a problem with that. Do you really want this kind of person (Blakespear) being your next Senator?

Leah Clare April 13, 2022 at 1:38 pm

It is clearly a campaign page and while campaigning, she is allowed to post things related to her current position. I just took a look at said page (thanks for the link) and on the about page it says

Page Rules: Welcome to the Facebook campaign page for Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Candidate for California State Senate District 36! The views, postings, positions or opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not officially represent those of the City of Encinitas. If you are an Encinitas resident and would like to discuss city business, please go to https://encinitasca.gov or contact me at [email protected]. Our social media content is subject to monitoring. Comments will be rejected or removed when their content: · Contains obscenities or offensive terms. · Is threatening, harassing, or discriminatory. · Contains personal identifying information or sensitive personal information. · Includes personal attacks. · Incites or promotes violence or illegal activities. · Contains information that could reasonably compromise public safety. · Advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, or any entity or individual. · Is off-subject or out of context. · Is repetitive or spamming in nature. · Infringes on a copyright, trademark, or other proprietary right of any party. · Is confidential, invasive of another person’s privacy, or contains their personal information. · Disrupts the normal flow of dialogue or negatively affects other users’ ability to engage in discussions on this page. Please be respectful and constructive when posting comments. Any user who violates this policy may lose their ability to interact with our account and/or be reported to the platform authorities.

I’ve personally seen Mr. Nichols and Ruben Flores both post the same comments on multiple posts, violating the page rules of repetitive comments. These aren’t citizens engaging in good faith, these are haters who want to relentlessly get their views across to the point of harassment. Interesting that the city staff report that recommended Encinitas stop working with Nichols and SMOP also mentioned his relentless and harassing behavior.

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