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Lambert v. Columbiana County

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  1. First Amendment

Case Number: 4:23-cv-2200

Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

Client: Evan Lambert

Complaint Filed: Nov. 13, 2023

Background: On Feb. 8, 2023, Evan Lambert, a journalist for NewsNation, attended a press conference held by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine about the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.

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 purpose of the event and his role as a reporter” and that the charges were “unsupported by sufficient evidence.”

On behalf of Lambert, attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law filed a lawsuit against Columbiana County, the city of East Palestine, and several individual law enforcement officials. The lawsuit alleges nine separate violations of Lambert’s rights under the U.S. Constitution and Ohio law, including retaliation, interference with newsgathering, false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution.

Lambert, who has continued to cover the aftermath of the East Palestine derailment, is asking the court for an injunction restraining the city and county from retaliating against him for his reporting, interfering with his newsgathering, and arresting him without a lawful basis. He is also seeking damages for the violations of his rights.

Quote: “I’m bringing this lawsuit because journalists should be able to cover newsworthy matters without fear of arrest or retaliation,” Lambert said. “The public had an obvious interest in the response by Ohio officials to the train derailment in East Palestine, and as a journalist, it was my duty to report that information.”

Related: After Lambert’s arrest in February 2023, Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown told Deadline that this “is yet another deeply concerning instance of law enforcement violating the First Amendment rights of journalists. It’s unreasonable for law enforcement to prohibit press from reporting at a press conference by public officials. In this country, we have constitutional protections that guarantee press freedom, and yet, we repeatedly see law enforcement disregarding these protections.”


2023-11-13: Complaint

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