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Publisher sues government officials who bought out election day papers

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    NMU         MARYLAND         Press at Home & Abroad         Nov 16, 1999    

Publisher sues government officials who bought out election day papers

  • A prosecutor and sheriff are being sued in federal court for allegedly conspiring to prevent the public from reading stories about them by purchasing nearly all editions of a daily newspaper.

The publisher of a Maryland weekly newspaper contends that St. Mary’s chief prosecutor, the sheriff, and several sheriff’s office employees violated his First Amendment rights and interfered with his business operation when they bought up nearly all of his newspapers on election day in November 1998.

Kenneth Rossignol, the publisher of St. Mary’s Today, filed suit in federal District Court in Greenbelt in early November alleging that District Attorney Richard Fritz, Sheriff Richard Voorhaar, and several sheriff’s office employees, including Capt. Steven Doolan, Sgts. Lyle Long, Michael Merican, Edward Willenborg, and Deputies Daniel Alioto, Steven Myers, and Harold Young orchestrated the purchases to keep the public from reading stories about Voorhaar and Fritz that appeared in the Nov. 3 election edition.

Rossignol claims that the group, in the early hours of Nov. 3, 1998, drove to various stores throughout St. Mary’s County, purchased all of the copies available from stores and boxes, and then destroyed them.

“These actions constituted violations of the U.S. Constitution, namely, an unlawful prior restraint on the press in violation of the First Amendment, unlawful and warrantless seizures of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and deprivation of property without due process of law in violation of the 14th Amendment,” according to the complaint filed by Rossignol’s attorney, Alice Neff Lucan.

Voorhaar told the Reporters Committee that he would love to comment on the lawsuit, but has been advised against doing so.

“I hope to be able to tell you what I really think about this soon,” Voorhaar said.

Fritz did not respond to a request for comment.

(Rossignol v. Voorhaar; Media Counsel: Seth Berlin and Alice Neff Lucan, Washington, D.C.)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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