Time for the Popehat Signal: Missouri Car Dealership Sues Over Criticism
It's time for the Popehat Signal, by which we seek pro bono assistance in defending the First Amendment. I learned of this case through Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, whose important work in support of free speech I've often praised here.
Dwayne Cooney took his car to Jim Butler Chevrolet of Fenton, Missouri. When most of us leave our cars to be serviced, we're left to guess exactly what the mechanics did to it. But Cooney, who works in security, has a dashboard camera, which he left on. He believed that the footage showed that Jim Butler Chevrolet overbilled and charged for work they did not perform. He posted the footage on YouTube.
Jim Butler Chevrolet claims that Cooney is wrong and has deceitfully edited the video, and that the video does not show all of the work that was actually done. They could have responded to Cooney's speech with more speech, but they took the censorious route and sued for defamation, even going as far as to seek an injunction to take Cooney's videos down. Incredibly, a judge issued a temporary restraining order, a plainly unconstitutional prior restraint of speech.
Missouri attorney Martin J. Buckley, with assistance from Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, convinced the judge to dissolve the temporary restraining order. But now Cooley's homeowner's insurance is refusing to cover his defense. The Jim Butler Chevrolet dealership is suing for damages and still seeking to have Cooley's criticism taken down. Cooley needs help. If you are an attorney in Missouri, please consider stepping up to assist him in defending this suit.
You can find Cooley's video here. Paul Alan Levy has the pleadings here. The dealership maintains that Cooley's video was misleading. Without prejudging that claim, free speech disputes are best resolved with competent counsel on both sides. Moreover, I am not inclined to believe a plaintiff who seeks a patently unconstitutional injunction against speech; rather, I'm inclined to view them as someone willing to abuse the legal system to silence criticism.
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