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Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear was issued a cease-and-desist letter for blocking her critics on her mayoral Facebook page. Courtesy photo/The Coast News graphic
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear was issued a cease-and-desist letter for blocking her critics on her mayoral Facebook page. Courtesy photo/The Coast News graphic
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Blakespear reaches settlement agreement with Facebook critics

ENCINITAS — Mayor Catherine Blakespear will issue a public apology for blocking critics from participating in conversations on her mayoral Facebook page as part of a recent settlement agreement, sources familiar with the matter told The Coast News. 

The settlement, which was finalized and signed on Monday, also stipulates that Blakespear, a candidate for the 38th State Senate District seat, will refrain from any further blocking of commenters on her social media profiles, and will pay an undisclosed sum to help cover the attorney’s fees of the involved parties, according to Michael Curran, an attorney at the Carlsbad-based law firm Curran & Curran Law. 

In April, Curran submitted a cease-and-desist letter to Blakespear on behalf of Robert Nichols, former chairman of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, and approximately 15 other “citizens rights advocates,” requesting that Blakespear allow residents to freely exchange their views on her Facebook posts without being blocked or having their comments deleted.

Curran later submitted a similar letter to Councilmember Joy Lyndes, a District 3 representative also serving on the Encinitas City Council, who was accused of blocking critics. 

Blakespear eventually unblocked Nichols and the other persons in question, but Curran said that his clients were still prepared to take the mayor to court with a civil lawsuit if she had not agreed to the settlement terms. 

A similar settlement agreement is also being finalized with Lyndes, Curran said. 

The attorney said his clients appreciate the case’s resolution but the situation escalating to this level reflects poorly on the mayor. 

“This [settlement] is a win for free speech,” Curran said. “The trouble with the practices of these politicians like Blakepsear and Lyndes — and they’re not alone in doing this by the way, in terms of politicians blocking adverse views — is that they took a constitutional oath to protect free speech.

“We shouldn’t have had to do any of this, to begin with — they should have kept their constitutional oaths. You might think, ‘Oh, she blocked somebody, big deal,’ but actually, this is a fight for free speech. It’s a fight for our constitutional liberties, and if we give up on those, they get taken away.”

In a statement provided to The Coast News, Nichols said the financial component of the settlement wasn’t important to him, but rather the principle of the matter that drove him to pursue the case at the legal level. 

“I’m happy that Mayor Catherine Blakespear signed our settlement agreement. She broke the law by violating her sworn oath of office as an elected official, was caught doing it and she knew it,” Nichols said. “I was prepared to go to court to fight for my rights and those of our community members. I didn’t care how much it was going to cost or how long it was going to take, our First Amendment is paramount.

“Any elected official who doesn’t understand how sacred our First Amendment is or their sworn oath of office as an elected public official should not be representing the people, it’s dangerous.”

In a response to a request for comment, Blakespear simply told The Coast News “the dispute over access to my social media account has been resolved and that’s all I have to say about that.” 

Ruben Flores, a former Encinitas planning commissioner and a prominent critic of the sitting council, was one of several individuals represented by Curran pursuing legal action against Blakespear after his comments were reportedly deleted and he was blocked from the mayor’s Facebook page.  

Flores said he appreciated Blakespear’s willingness to apologize and make amends but argued the situation was reflective of a City Council that he claims has become alarmingly deaf to constituents’ concerns over accountability in city government. 

“I think, first of all, it’s very important that people understand that I am a former supporter of Blakespear, I campaigned for her,” Flores said. “But now I’ve become extremely disappointed and shocked at the turn Mayor Blakespear has taken in the last couple of years. The fact that there had to be a settlement speaks volumes to the fact that there was something being done outside of the norm and the law and it speaks volumes to the tactics and approach that the mayor has unfortunately taken on in the last three or four years.

“It’s saddening to me, and it happened not just to me but to many people in this community. The idea of excluding dissenting voices just creates an artificial echo chamber, and it’s a reflection of the attitude of our elected leaders. I want them to listen to all points of view, even the people that voted against them.” 

While there is no law against a private individual restricting access to their personal social media, recent federal rulings have determined the First Amendment can be violated if elected officeholder restricts access to their social media page used to engage in activities related to their official capacity. 

Since Blakespear uses her official mayoral Facebook page as a forum to discuss city and regional business, events and projects, all speech on such a forum is subject to constitutional protections, Curran said. 

David Snyder, attorney and executive director of First Amendment Coalition, said the settlement agreement requiring the mayor to apologize was an ideal outcome allowing both parties to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.

“This was a good result where there’s no need for a lawsuit,” Snyder told The Coast News. “The mayor agreed to correct her behavior and this presumably means she won’t do this in the future. When these things are resolved short of litigation that’s often the best course cause lawsuits take time and money.” 

Snyder also explained that such legal cases involving the social media pages of political figures are becoming increasingly common, describing it as an “evolving field of law.”

Generally speaking, judges appear to be considering officeholders’ social media pages to be “public forums,” and thus protected under the First Amendment, Snyder said. 

“It is something that is coming up more and more often, that public officials are becoming aware that their social media platforms may be subject to same kinds of first amendment requirements that forums in public spaces are subject to,” Snyder said. “Provided that the account is connected to your work as a public official, the courts are making it clear that you can’t arbitrarily block people just because they disagree with your viewpoint, perceived or real.” 

“In a public forum, you can’t engage in viewpoint discrimination, like at a city council meeting you can’t say well if you speak negatively about this policy proposal we’re going to give you less time than someone who speaks favorably of the proposal. There’s a growing body of case law that exports this doctrine to the social media realm under the theory that social media accounts — while not in a physical space — provide the same sorts of places for public discussion about the public’s business.” 

9 comments

Encinitas Lover May 24, 2022 at 2:47 pm

Blakespear’s pages is conducting city business and is an “extension of her office”. Her page is titled “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” even says “Public Figure”. The SO CAL ACLU states her page is absolutely an official page even Marco her defender stated that regrettably she was using it to conduct city business.

From the ACLU…”How to determine if an official’s social media account is being used as an extension of their office:

The ACLU specifically states:

1. The official identifies as a government official (e.g., includes their official title like @POTUS ) on the account.

2.The official posts announcements about their policies, responsibilities, or actions to communicate and interact with constituents and voters.

3.The official uses the account to seek or encourage comments about what legislation they should bring or support.

4.The official uses the account to call official meetings or declare orders within their authority.

5.The official encourages public discussion on their account or page.

6.The official allows users to ask for government services on their account.

7.The page lists or otherwise indicates the official’s title.

Evan Marco Gonzalez said he regretted that she used it to conduct city business.Coast News- “Gonzalez did say that he felt as though the mayor had erred by utilizing her public Facebook page to engage in city-related business.”

According to Robert Nichols she has blocked nearly 30 people, mostly Democrat and even a person with disabilities who was asking about accessibility issues in town.

Michael Curran, Robert Nichols, Stephen Golden, Ruben Florez and all those listed are doing a spectacular job of holding Blakespear accountable for “breaking the law and her sworn oath of office as an elected official and oath as an attorney.” We will not support elected representatives who constantly break the law and only stop when they get caught.

Encinitas Lover May 24, 2022 at 2:43 pm

Blakespear broke the law and her sworn oath of office as an elected official and attorney. According to the ACLU and the 3rd and 4th District Courts.

“Your First Amendment rights and social media

Even online, your First Amendment rights remain with you. While private individuals and the platform itself can censor you, government actors cannot generally censor you based on the content of your communication. If the account page is determined to be official, then they should not exclude anyone for having differing viewpoints. They may not block users, delete comments, or otherwise restrict engagement on the basis of viewpoint.
If an official’s social media page is being used as an extension of their office office, there are certain things they can and cannot do.

•They cannot stop people from joining a public conversation on the social media account because of the views they express on the topics being discussed.

•They cannot block critical voices from asking for government services through the social media account because of those critical viewpoints.

•They cannot prevent people from being able to see social media posts that publicly announce government information or policy because of their viewpoints.

•They can block posters for making personal threats and in some cases for the use of profane language.

•They can in certain circumstances limit discussions to specific subjects, particularly if done from the outset.”

Source: https://www.nyclu.org/en/know-your-rights/what-do-if-youre-censored-politicians-social-media

Mitchell P May 21, 2022 at 12:40 pm

Sounds like a frivolous case of manufactured rage by people who dislike their Mayor for other reasons and want to defame her. The cease & desist named both her personal and mayoral FB pages – a case exists for her mayoral page, but I think they would have lost re: her personal page. Even if she discusses her job as an elected official on her personal FB page, I’m of the opinion she still has the right to block trolls just like any other private citizen.

Encinitas Lover May 24, 2022 at 2:46 pm

Mitchell P, you are incorrect Blakespear’s pages is conducting city business and is an “extension of her office”. Her page is titled “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” even says “Public Figure”. The SO CAL ACLU states her page is absolutely an official page even Marco her defender stated that regrettably she was using it to conduct city business.

From the ACLU…”How to determine if an official’s social media account is being used as an extension of their office:

The ACLU specifically states:

1. The official identifies as a government official (e.g., includes their official title like @POTUS ) on the account.

2.The official posts announcements about their policies, responsibilities, or actions to communicate and interact with constituents and voters.

3.The official uses the account to seek or encourage comments about what legislation they should bring or support.

4.The official uses the account to call official meetings or declare orders within their authority.

5.The official encourages public discussion on their account or page.

6.The official allows users to ask for government services on their account.

7.The page lists or otherwise indicates the official’s title.

Evan Marco Gonzalez said he regretted that she used it to conduct city business.Coast News- “Gonzalez did say that he felt as though the mayor had erred by utilizing her public Facebook page to engage in city-related business.”

According to Robert Nichols she has blocked nearly 30 people, mostly Democrat and even a person with disabilities who was asking about accessibility issues in town.

Michael Curran, Robert Nichols, Stephen Golden, Ruben Florez and all those listed are doing a spectacular job of holding Blakespear accountable for “breaking the law and her sworn oath of office as an elected official and oath as an attorney.” We will not support elected representatives who constantly break the law and only stop when they get caught.

Encinitas Lover May 18, 2022 at 12:59 pm

You were caught breaking the law Mayor Catherine Blakespear. You were caught violating your sworn oath of office. Unfortunately it took a group of concerned citizens and an attorney to restore our First Amendment rights. I appreciate Michael Curran, Robert Nichols and anyone else involved in rectifying this matter. You should resign immediately. You have no business in politics, you have no business representing the peoples best interests. You have given Democracy a very bad name. PLEASE RESIGN!

Deb1949 May 18, 2022 at 9:28 am

Myself, my family and neighbors applaud Mr. Robert Nichols and Curran & Curran Law Firm for holding Mayor Catherine Blakespear accountable for once. As former supporters of Blakespear, we are deeply disappointed by her leadership and actions, to say the least. Encinitas residents have been trying for years to speak up against her hasty, reckless decisions only to find themselves blocked, deleted, called horrific names, silenced, berated, ignored or sued. Yes, she sued her own residents! The current sitting council is extremely unethical and our neighborhood would love nothing more than to see each one of them step down. The residents of our community are treated like trash by this Mayor and council and we’re all tired of it. Vote them all out.

rachel May 18, 2022 at 8:08 am

Scandal after scandal.
I sent private messages to Blakespear before the last election, asking her why my comments and others were being deleted from her Mayoral Facebook page. She never replied to them. She won the election, while violating the constitution and denying the public free speech. RESIGN NOW!

Free Speech Matters May 18, 2022 at 6:50 am

Cathy needs to go, as does her sidekick in violating the First Amendment. What we saw yesterday was a flat out admission that she violated that piece of her oath, where she swore to ‘uphold” the Constitution. Of course we have seen Ms. Blake + Spear send her social media surrogates after this publication, in a manner not far removed from the e-bike antics of one Jeremy Kron in 2020. Both Carlsbad and Encinitas have elevated a group of politicians that are essentially bullies, and who are mightily aided and abetted by a series of FB echo chambers, designed to slander and shame any divergent thinkers into silence. Mr. Nichols, Mr. Flores, and Mr. Curran won a victory for everybody yesterday.

steve333 May 17, 2022 at 11:27 am

How embarrassing for her.
Now, will people come to their senses and realize what a horrible Mayor and person she is? No redeeming qualities whatsoever.
I wonder if it’s legal for her to use her Mayor Group in her run for Senate. I’d like them to look into that as well since she is obviously using it as a platform. She should really resign.
There are 2 good people running for Senate-Democrat Joe Kerr and Republican Matt Gunderson.
There is simply no reason at all to even consider voting for Corrupt Catherine.

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