L.A. Ethics Commission Accused of Overkill

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A woman sued Los Angeles and its Ethics Commission, claiming she was unconstitutionally prosecuted and threatened with a $14,000 fine for failing to include a “paid for by” disclaimer on a mailer for a city attorney candidate.
     Laurel Dickranian claims in Federal Court that the City of Los Angeles’ and Los Angeles City Ethics Commission’s disclaimer, literature filing and financial reporting requirements unconstitutionally chill her speech.
     Dickranian allegedly paid for the 2009 letter, which urged ethnic religious groups to vote for Michael Amerian as Los Angeles city attorney.
     Dickranian says she was investigated for violations of the city’s municipal code and charter for not including the disclaimers “‘paid for by'” or “‘not authorized by a city candidate.'”
     The ethics commission also claimed that she failed to report the mailing, and a payment of almost $8,000 for design and postage, the complaint states.
     But Dickranian says she signed the letters and included a post office box on return-address envelopes.
     When she refused to pay a $13,707.55 fine, the commission formally announced the violations in June 2010.
     “The LAMC and charter sections are overly broad and facially unconstitutional. Indeed, the sections at issue do more than regulate independent expenditures – they largely regulate the content of speech regardless of the financial expenditure involved,” the 20-page complaint states, abbreviating the Los Angeles Municipal Code. “They serve to chill political speech and do not serve any compelling government purpose. Alternatively, they are unconstitutional as applied.”
     Almost 2 years after it launched the investigation, the city decided to drop the case in the “public interest” according to Dickranian.
     During that time, she says, she paid attorney fees to defend herself against prosecution.
     “Ms. Dickranian is active in her community, and she intends to speak freely on matters of public interest, particularly local politics, in the future. She is entitled to do so free from fear of unconstitutional prosecution by defendants,” the complaint states.
     Amerian was one of six candidates in the 2009 Los Angeles city attorney election. Carmen Trutanich prevailed, winning 55.7 percent of the vote in a run-off against Jack Weiss.
     Dickranian is represented by Daniel Reisman with Reisman & Reisman.

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