Law School clinic scores First Amendment win in Geneva

Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Greenberg Traurig LLP scored a victory June 11 for citizen journalist Jim Meaney of Geneva, New York, and his blog The Geneva Believer.

A New York judge denied a construction company’s request that Meaney remove 10 posts from the local government-focused blog. In its decision, the trial court expressly affirmed that a takedown order would violate the First Amendment.

“Fighting for the right of citizen journalist Jim Meaney to report on a matter of significant public concern – how a local government conducts its business dealings – is the most recent example of the crucial work that our Local Journalism Project is doing to defend local newsgatherers,” said Mark Jackson, First Amendment Clinic director and adjunct professor of law. “Rulings like this one benefit all reporters by protecting them from efforts to stifle speech at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections.”

Meaney is represented by Jackson; First Amendment Clinic Associate Director Cortelyou Kenney; and teaching fellow Tyler Valeska, along with co-counsel Michael Grygiel of Greenberg Traurig. First Amendment Clinic student members Corby Burger, Michael Mapp and Rob Ward also contributed.

In several articles, Meaney raised questions about Massa Construction Inc.’s contracts with the city of Geneva, including potential conflicts of interest of some City Council members. After Meaney received a cease-and-desist letter from Massa accusing him of defaming the company, he contacted the Cornell clinic.

Before the clinic could respond, Massa filed a defamation complaint against Meaney in state court.

When the clinic and Grygiel asked that Massa withdraw the suit on the bases of defective pleading and New York’s protections against First Amendment-related lawsuits, Massa filed an amended complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order, which was denied.

“The trial court’s decision,” Grygiel said, “reaffirms long-standing Supreme Court precedent recognizing that orders such as the one requested by Massa are a classic example of an unconstitutional prior restraint.”

Massa has filed a notice of appeal of the trial court’s decision to the Appellate Division.

The Cornell First Amendment Clinic’s recently launched Local Journalism Project addresses the growing void in legal representation facing newsgatherers and media outlets, which would otherwise preclude them from engaging in expensive litigation to defend their rights and ability to do their jobs. The clinic’s work extends across disciplines, impacting journalists, researchers, human rights advocates, political advocates and other individuals targeted based on their expression.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli