Council’s Censure Didn’t Curb Woman’s Rights

     EUREKA, Calif. (CN) – A Crescent City council member cannot sue former colleagues for allegedly violating her constitutional rights by censuring her in 2009, a federal judge ruled.

     Donna Westfall sued the city pro se in August 2010, alleging her free-speech and due-process rights had been violated when the council issued a resolution finding she had breached the city’s ethics code.
     Westfall claimed the council had censured her for questioning its management of a wastewater-treatment project, but the resolution said she had knowingly “used false, inaccurate and partial information” to support her views. It also accused her of disrespecting fellow council members, using her position as a council member to “promote her personal quilt show,” and calling lower-level city employees at their homes after work hours try to obtain evidence “to support her theories and claims of corruption and criminal misconduct.”
     The council also released a report in December 2009 that estimated the city had spent over $37,000 responding to information requests from Westfall in the course of one year, just concerning the water project.
     While the censure, which ended as of November 2010, did “more than reprimand” Westfall, it did not ultimately violate Westfall’s constitutional right to free speech, U.S. District Judge Nandor Vadas ruled.
     The censure neither prevented Westfall from continuing her official duties or speaking at council meetings or in public, according to the May 26 ruling. Vadas also rejected Westfall’s claims for due-process and equal-protection violations, slander and libel and emotional distress, as she cannot show she suffered any harm for which the court can award damages.

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