Community newspaper publisher fights seizure of papers
NEW MEXICO–A community publisher filed a complaint in early August in the district court in Bernalillo against Bernie Lujan, chairman of the planning and zoning commission of Sandoval County, over the alleged illegal seizure of copies of a monthly newspaper.
Publisher Gary Miles is seeking an injunction to stop Lujan from confiscating or using other methods of prior restraint to block distribution of the monthly Sandoval County Watchdog, or from using his position to retaliate against Miles for publication of articles and editorials critical of Lujan’s performance as chairman of the commission.
The complaint stems from two incidents in mid-May. About 25 copies of the April 1997 edition of the Watchdog were removed from a location outside the commission room prior to its May 15 meeting. Another 20 were also removed by the end of the meeting. The April edition contained articles criticizing the insensitivity of county employees.
On May 20, a stack of copies of the May 1997 edition, placed outside the room of a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, was removed. That issue discussed the commission’s April 18 meeting and criticized what it characterized as Lujan’s intolerance towards county residents opposed to some of his regulations. Lujan was quoted as describing actions of the opponents to the regulations as “outrageous.” The article criticized Lujan’s comment, suggesting that Lujan was not serving the public interest as a member of the planning commission.
Miles claims that Lujan confiscated the stack of papers before the meeting and then handed them to the janitor for disposal. He added that he heard Lujan tell the janitor to make sure that the issues were thrown away.
The confiscation and attempted disposal of the newspapers was done without warrant and justification and constituted an unreasonable seizure and an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Miles claimed in his complaint. (Miles v. Lujan; Media Counsel: William Dixon, Albuquerque)