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Federal judge dismisses “amateur” reporter’s lawsuit

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         VERMONT         Prior Restraints         Nov 5, 1999    

Federal judge dismisses “amateur” reporter’s lawsuit

  • Individual public officials have immunity from liability for prohibiting a man from attending state court proceedings and reporting on them on placards displayed from his home and van.

A Brattleboro federal trial judge in late October dismissed a lawsuit brought by a “self-styled amateur reporter” against Rutland city officials and city and county departments for restricting his ability to attend and report on court proceedings.

Judge J. Garvan Mutha granted requests from the city departments and city employees to throw out Scott Huminski’s lawsuit before trial. In an affidavit that Huminski filed with the court, he stated that he had been “investigating and reporting on Court proceedings and law enforcement in Vermont for the past three years” and that he publishes his findings on placards that he posts on his home and van.

Mutha’s order states that multiple notices of trespass had been served upon Huminski that ordered him to stay off, among other properties, the Rutland District Courthouse grounds.

Mutha held that the individual public officials enjoyed immunity from Huminski’s suit because they did not knowingly violate any of his constitutional rights. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a state can ban picketing near a courthouse, Mutha reasoned that the public officials could have relied on that decision in ordering Huminski out of the courthouse.

Mutha also held that the governmental units could not be held liable in Huminski’s lawsuit because the alleged violations did not arise out of a policy or custom and Huminski’s allegations were conclusory in nature.

Huminski said that he plans on appealing Murtha’s decision.

The underlying dispute arose in late May when Huminski parked his van at the courthouse parking lot. According to the court, Huminski’s van contained “posters describing [state] Judge Nancy Corsones’ alleged subversion of the Constitution.” After police officers and court employees unsuccessfully demanded that Huminski remove his van, Huminski entered the courthouse to observe court proceedings. Two hours later, he was served with notices of trespass and ordered to leave the courthouse.

(Huminski v. Rutland Police Dep’t; Counsel: Scott Huminski, pro se)


© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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