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NewsNation journalist Evan Lambert obtains $80,000 judgment against Ohio city, county

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Lambert was represented by attorneys from RCFP and the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
A screen capture of a NewsNation broadcast shows law enforcement arresting journalist Evan Lambert on Feb. 8, 2023.
A screen capture of a NewsNation broadcast shows law enforcement arresting journalist Evan Lambert on Feb. 8, 2023.

A city and county in Ohio have agreed to pay $112,000 to resolve NewsNation journalist Evan Lambert’s federal civil rights lawsuit, which stemmed from his unlawful arrest last year while covering a press conference about the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.

The amount includes $80,000 to compensate Lambert for his injuries and $32,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, whose attorneys represented Lambert in the action.

Lambert accepted an $80,000 offer of judgment made by the city of East Palestine and Columbiana County in late December, roughly a month after he sued the government entities and several law enforcement officials for violating his rights under the U.S. Constitution and Ohio law. Rather than fight Lambert’s claims, the city and county quickly agreed to have the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio enter judgment against them in the journalist’s favor. Lambert then voluntarily dismissed his claims against the individual officer defendants.

“We’re glad to have helped Evan obtain swift accountability — including a substantial judgment against the city and county — for an egregious arrest that never should have taken place,” said Katie Townsend, the Reporters Committee’s deputy executive director and legal director. “We hope this serves as a reminder to law enforcement in Ohio and elsewhere that reporters must be free to do their jobs without fear of arrest or other official retaliation.”

Lambert attended the press conference held by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine days after a train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed in East Palestine last February, releasing hazardous materials into the environment. As the press conference began, Lambert delivered a live, on-air report to NewsNation viewers. Law enforcement officials ordered Lambert to stop broadcasting and — when Lambert asserted his First Amendment right to cover the press conference — violently arrested him. Lambert was then charged in Columbiana County Municipal Court with trespass and resisting arrest.

DeWine immediately urged prosecutors to drop the charges, saying in public statements that Lambert had “every right” to cover the press conference and that he had not authorized anyone to prohibit live shots or remove Lambert for conducting one. When Ohio’s attorney general later announced that all charges against Lambert would be dismissed, he noted that everything Lambert did that day “was consistent with the event and his role as a reporter” and that the charges were “unsupported by sufficient evidence.”

Lambert’s case was resolved roughly two months after attorneys from the Reporters Committee and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP helped Josie Huang, a reporter for NPR member station LAist 89.3, reach a $700,000 settlement agreement with Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department related to the journalist’s violent and unlawful arrest while covering a protest in 2020.

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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