Peers Criticize Lawyer's Cease And Desist Letter To Blogger
Mark Boughton is the mayor of Danbury and, in 2010, was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. He’s also considered a likely candidate for governor in 2014 and has already formed an exploratory campaign committee.
But he has a potentially embarrassing problem. A former mayoral assistant and longtime friend, Wendy DaCosta, has filed a federal lawsuit over her firing. She claims that she was terminated after sexual harassment complaints were brought against her, but that Boughton and others in city government weren’t punished for similar behavior.
Boughton has steadfastly denied any such behavior. Whether DaCosta’s claim has any merit is up to the courts to decide. But what is clear is that her case has prompted a freedom of information flap in the Hat City, as well as bringing some unflattering attention to a law firm that represents the mayor.
The most recent skirmish started this fall when members of the media asked the city for transcripts of DaCosta case depositions from Boughton and other city officials under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. They were told that the documents had to first be reviewed by the city’s legal department. “If it were up to me we’d release the documents tomorrow but the legal department needs to complete its review,” Boughton said in late October.
Ridgefield attorney Lisa Maurer, who represents DaCosta, viewed these as stalling tactics, and said she wasn’t surprised, given Boughton’s aspirations for higher office. To successfully run for governor, Maurer told the Law Tribune, Boughton “has to have the city look like it is well managed. There is a lot of information that could lead a voter to think otherwise if it was freely available. What is in these depositions is only the tip of the iceberg.”
So Maurer, on her own, released transcripts of the depositions to a Danbury newspaper reporter and a Danbury blogger. The Hat City Blog, authored by Al Robinson, published some of the depositions and concluded that Boughton was “infatuated” with a former personnel director and warped by power.
The Hartford firm of Rose Kaller is representing Boughton and the city. After Robinson commented on the depositions, he received a cease and desist letter from Johanna Zelman, a lawyer at the firm. The letter read, in part: “The City of Danbury hereby orders you to CEASE AND DESIST publication and/or comment on the deposition transcripts from the matter of DaCosta v. Danbury on www.HatCityBLOG.blogspot.com and/or any other Internet and/or social media site, including Twitter and Facebook that are currently in your possession, custody and control…”
The letter concludes: “The intent of this cease and desist order is not to impinge on your First Amendment right to Free Speech … ”
Robinson and others saw the letter attempting to do just that. Andy Thibault, a veteran Connecticut journalist who now writes a column for the Torrington Register-Citizen as well as the Cool Justice blog, has written several scathing columns taking Zelman and Boughton to task for trying to suppress the depositions. “What were they thinking trying to put the arm on blogger Al Robinson?” Thibault wrote.
Beyond his own opinions, Thibault quoted a half dozen prominent Connecticut lawyers who also were critical of the cease and desist letter.
“The statement in the Rose Kallor letter that publication of the transcripts violates various laws is absolutely groundless,” said Dan Klau, who practices First Amendment and appellate law at McElvoy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter in Hartford. “It is a naked attempt to intimidate a journalist from publishing information on matters of legitimate public concern.”
Jon Schoenhorn, a civil rights and personal injury attorney in Hartford, was even more critical, telling Thibault: “Unless it involves privileged material, not only is there no basis to keep [the depositions] from being published, the lawyer trying to stop it should be sanctioned.”