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Baum Hedlund Secures Settlement in First Amendment Case Against Irvine Mayor
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, PC Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, PC
Irvine, CA
Friday, January 8, 2021

Baum Hedlund Secures Settlement in First Amendment Case Against Irvine Mayor

The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has reached a settlement agreement on behalf of client Lamar West in his civil rights case against Irvine, California Mayor Christina Shea.

The City of Irvine will pay a sum of money to Mr. West on behalf of Mayor Shea to settle allegations that the mayor violated Mr. West's First Amendment rights by blocking him from posting on her personal Facebook profile after West was critical of online comments Shea made concerning the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Filed on July 20, 2020, the complaint alleged Mayor Shea used her Facebook profile as a public forum and committed viewpoint discrimination and censorship when she blocked Mr. West from engaging in open discourse on systemic racism and police misconduct. Mr. West further alleged that Mayor Shea blocked several other commenters from her Facebook profile.

The allegations in the lawsuit stem from the events that came in the wake of George Floyd's death. Days after Floyd's death and the protests throughout the country, Mayor Shea posted a message on her Facebook profile saying she received several emails from Black Lives Matter that asked her to cut public safety funding and allocate the money to community programs designed to combat homelessness, among other issues.

Shea's message which has since been deleted read:

"We have been named one of the Safest Cities in America for 15 years in a row and I will not agree to reduce our public safety funding especially after seeing the violence we have endured as a nation this past week … If you are coming into Irvine to promote an agenda, and protest for lesser public safety protection, best you turn around and find another city to compromise"

Mr. West was one of more than 100 people to respond to the mayor's comment:

"Like other educated people have mentioned it's okay for you to support the movement and not defund the police but you don't want to do either. I can hear the racist ancestors of yours in this post and it's sickening. Enjoy your position while it lasts"  

Shea responded by blocking Mr. West and several other individuals who made critical comments of her official capacity as mayor. Mr. West and others asked to be unblocked but Mayor Shea refused. Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman then sent a demand letter requesting Shea to unblock Mr. West from her profile, explaining that she could not censor Mr. West's viewpoint as she had created a public forum on her Facebook profile. Per the complaint, Mayor Shea did not respond to the letter, did not unblock Mr. West, and only modified her public profile with the description "this is not a government page"

In response to the lawsuit, Mayor Shea filed a motion to dismiss that was denied. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote that Mr. West "plausibly alleges that Defendant blocked him from her Profile solely because he expressed a view she did not like. Governmental viewpoint discrimination has long been prohibited by the First Amendment"

Once the motion was denied, the two sides entered into negotiations, resulting in the settlement which became final on December 7, 2020.

The City of Irvine issued the following statement concerning the settlement on Dec. 9, 2020:

Statement Regarding West v. Shea Matter

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The City of Irvine recently paid a substantial sum to settle a lawsuit arising from former Mayor Christina Shea's use of her personal Facebook profile. Mayor Shea chose to block users and delete postings relating to the Black Lives Matter movement during the protests last summer. One of the blocked users, Lamar West, sued former Mayor Shea in federal court, claiming she violated his free speech rights. Because Mr. West alleged the Mayor's activities amounted to government action, the City was required by law to defend the lawsuit.

Even though the case ultimately settled with no admission of liability, the City incurred over $80,000 in legal fees to defend the lawsuit, and spent almost $40,000 more in settlement. While arguments can be made that the City could have successfully defended the lawsuit at trial, there can be no question that this whole situation could have been avoided had former Mayor Shea not blocked the users and deleted the posts.

The City of Irvine holds itself to high standards. It encourages robust discussion of important public issues, and it disapproves of actions that silence the voices of those with opposing points of view. Putting aside the question of what is "legal," the City believes that former Mayor Shea's actions did not meet the City's standards and expectations.

Mr. Esfandiary, Monique Alarcon, and Timothy A. Loranger from Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represented Mr. West in his case.

"It was an honor to represent Mr. West in this important case, which should serve as a strong warning that elected officials cannot censor dissenting voices on the internet," says Mr. West's attorney, Pedram Esfandiary.

About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman

Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is an award-winning law firm representing individuals in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuitsclass actions, mass tortswhistleblower claims, police misconduct and more. The firm's attorneys have earned a reputation for winning big cases and breaking new legal ground. Across all areas of practice, Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has won over $4 billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients in the United States and around the world.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Robin McCall
Title: Media Relations Director
Group: Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman
Dateline: Los Angeles, CA United States
Direct Phone: 310-207-3233
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