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Virginian-Pilot Quotes Jon Katz On First Amendment – Violative City Council Rule

Fairfax/Arlington County Criminal/DWI lawyer Jon Katz defends the First Amendment in criminal and civil cases

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Sticking a thumb in the eye of open and transparent government, democracy, and First Amendment protection, a majority of the Portsmouth, Virginia, city council took it upon itself, in haste all the worse, to add the following abomination to the city council rules of order and procedure:

“Any Council member or person violating the confidentiality of a closed session or using a recording device during a closed session shall be subject to censure, a fine of not less than $1500 and/or reprimand by a majority vote of the City Council.”

Thanks to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper for calling me  yesterday for my two cents on this city council provision.

While I can see circumstances that might justify limiting recording certain city legislative sessions, I see no justification for prohibiting an attendee at such sessions (and who decides which sessions get closed, and for what reason?) from disclosing the happenings of all legislative proceedings. Moreover, the foregoing provision fails to limit itself only to council members.

Except for emergency matters, legislatures should give due deliberation and notice and comment periods to the public before passing legislation. Here, having failed to do so, the Portsmouth city council members who passed this secrecy provision look silly at best and like civil liberties slashers at worst. They can undo this public relations gaffe and civil liberties smear by reversing this gag provision.


Thanks to Johanna Somers at the Virginian-Pilot for interviewing me. I understand that Johanna found me through my listing as the only Virginia member of the terrific First Amendment Lawyers Association.

As an aside, about the First Amendment Lawyers Association, this group has been a great source since 1999 for amazing collegiality, brainstorming, teamwork, learning, and fun among First Amendment lawyers from around the nation, including many addressing some of the days most critical free expression issues. How wonderful it is for me to be able to get a quick response from some of the nation’s best First Amendment lawyers as I have fought for clients charged with violating peeping Tom laws, defended political activists, litigated to keep open clients’ adult video stores and strip clubs, and prepared for media interviews on such topics as football team owner Dan Snyder’s silly libel suit against the Washington City PaperHow rewarding it has been to collaborate with my sibling FALA members David Wasserman and Larry Walters, respectively, in co-authoring a brief against Howard County, Maryland’s adult business zoning law (which got invalidated on First Amendment grounds), and in fighting successfully as local counsel at the administrative hearing level to reverse the firing of a prison guard (yes, I fight for the civil liberties of everyone, regardless of their job or political views) for posing nude in her private time.

My law practice is driven by a devotion to civil liberties, primarily defending in criminal court, and defending the First Amendment in criminal court and in non-criminal court venues.