The City of Irvine recently paid a substantial sum to settle a lawsuit arising from former Mayor Christina Shea’s use of her personal Facebook profile. Mayor Shea chose to block users and delete postings relating to the Black Lives Matter movement during the protests last summer. One of the blocked users, Lamar West, sued former Mayor Shea in federal court, claiming she violated his free speech rights. Because Mr. West alleged the Mayor’s activities amounted to government action, the City was required by law to defend the lawsuit.
Even though the case ultimately settled with no admission of liability, the City incurred over $80,000 in legal fees to defend the lawsuit, and spent almost $40,000 more in settlement. While arguments can be made that the City could have successfully defended the lawsuit at trial, there can be no question that this whole situation could have been avoided had former Mayor Shea not blocked the users and deleted the posts.
The City of Irvine holds itself to high standards. It encourages robust discussion of important public issues, and it disapproves of actions that silence the voices of those with opposing points of view. Putting aside the question of what is “legal,” the City believes that former Mayor Shea’s actions did not meet the City’s standards and expectations.