Ohio Republican Senator Joe Uecker has agreed to pay $20,000 to settle a lawsuit after a citizen accused him of illegally blocking him on Facebook.
As part of the agreement, Uecker will not admit guilt. Uecker also denies that he violated the citizen’s free speech rights.
As per the agreement, Uecker cannot block the citizen, Anthony Fambry, from his Facebook page in the future unless the post is threatening or deemed harassment.
The settlement was reached just weeks after the complaint was filed by Fambry in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.
Fambry says Uecker violated his First Amendment rights by blocking him from a Facebook page and deleting his comments regarding the senator’s support for a controversial abortion ban. The bill would have prohibited an abortion at the first detectable heartbeat, which is as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Uecker said it was the “strongest pro-life legislation” he had “the privilege to work on” in his time in the legislature.
When the post likes started increasing, Uecker allegedly blocked Fambry. Uecker then unblocked Fembry just hours after the lawsuit was filed.
Fambry argued that the Uecker’s Facebook page was, essentially, a public forum. Fambry was also a constituent of Uecker’s, which was indicated by Facebook with a statehouse badge next to his name.
After the settlement was reached, Fambry said, “The message is simple: Public servants can’t silence us. Just because they don’t like what we say, they can’t silence us.”
Uecker will pay $20,000 in damages and legal fees. The settlement expires when Uecker leaves office.
John Fortney, spokesman for the Ohio Senate GOP, said the issue was resolved when Uecker unblocked Fambry. The case, he says, wasn’t worth litigating long-term.
Fortney said there are many ways for constituents to communicate with the General Assembly, and that they look forward to hearing from Ohioans.
The case was the first of its kind in Ohio, but it follows a similar case in Virginia. A federal appeals court in Virginia ruled in January that a politician violated the Constitution when she blocked an individual from viewing her Facebook page.
A Kentucky judge took a different stance last year, siding with Governor Mat Bevin in a preliminary case filed by the ACLU.
President Trump was also involved in a similar case. He is pushing for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan to overturn a decision which said the president could not block critics on Twitter.