In late December, blogger Paul Ripp filed a lawsuit in federal court against Fairhope Council President Jack Burrell for actions taken by Burrell at an Aug. 28, 2017, Fairhope City Council meeting where Ripp said Burrell denied him his “constitutional rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
Ripp, the publisher of the Ripp Report blog, posted a copy of the lawsuit he filed on a Dec. 29 post entitled “SEE YA IN COURT JACK.”
“The meeting in question, along with Ripp’s nasty confrontation with Council President Burrell—who denied Ripp his right to speak in a public forum sanctioned by City of Fairhope ordinance—and threatened his removal and arrest for trying to address the council—was captured on the official video of the council meeting,” Ripp wrote.
Ripp wrote this was the first time he had filed suit against the City of Fairhope regarding the issue of allowing him to speak.
“This is the first time Ripp has sued the City of Fairhope over refusing to allow him to address the city council,” Ripp wrote. “The city had denied him in the past, several times, the ability to speak at public meetings, forcing the council to adopt a new set of rules regarding public participation. These are the rules City Councilman Jack Burrell ignored when he allegedly denied Mr. Ripp, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Viet Nam, his constitutional right to free speech.”
During the Aug. 28, 2017 meeting, as Ripp approached the podium to speak, Burrell told him he would not be allowed to speak.
The following audio comes directly from The Courier’s recording checked against footage from the City of Fairhope’s video archives.
Burrell: No, sir. Mr. Ripp, I’m not going to allow you to speak.
Burrell: No, sir, I’m not. You’ve relinquished your rights. It’s a privilege, and I’ve had more complaints about you getting up here and spreading innuendo, talking about citizens and employees and council members. Most people that I’ve talked to don’t want to give you the time of day. Chief, if you will show him back to his seat. Take a seat. I’m not allowing you to speak.
Ripp: Are you aware this has been done before five times?
Burrell: It doesn’t matter to me what’s been done before. It’s a right, not a privilege (pause) a privilege, not a right, so you can take your seat. I’ve heard enough from you.
Burrell: Is there anyone else who would like to speak? (To Ripp) You can go back and write all you want to. Don’t say a word. You’re going to go to jail.
Ripp: I will.
When asked for a comment shortly after that Aug. 2017 meeting, Burrell said he never threatened to remove Ripp from the meeting.
“I didn’t kick him out, and I didn’t violate his free speech,” Burrell said. “There was never an instruction for him to be removed. That was not my instruction to Chief Petties at all. I think he chose to walk out so he could say he got kicked out, which is not at all what happened.”
Nowhere in the recording of the exchange does Burrell instruct Petties to escort Ripp from the room.
Ripp also called out the other council members, City Clerk Lisa Hanks and former City Attorney Tut Wynne and current City Attorney Marcus McDowell for their part in the event.
“City Attorneys, council council (sic) and city clerk, remained mute during Mr Burrell’s actions,” Ripp wrote. “Ripp’s lawsuit seeks damages for what he described as “humiliation” and “emotional pain.”
In the suit filed by attorney Gregory Morris, however, Ripp is only suing Burrell, both as an individual and as a city official for his actions.
The lawsuit alleges Burrell violated the City Council’s rules of procedure in not allowing Ripp to speak during the meeting.
“The City Council President embarrassed and humiliated the Plaintiff, causing the Plaintiff to suffer grave emotional stress,” the lawsuit alleges. “Clearly, the City Council President was acting beyond his presumption of qualified immunity. The City Council President’s language and his tone and tenor were clearly an attack on the Plaintiff personally as well as an affront against civil liberty.”