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CSJ Wins Again

Covered by the Star Ledger and The New Jersey Law Journal

The Center for Social Justice, in conjunction with ACLU-NJ, has won its latest round in its suit against the City of Newark and the Newark Police Department for free speech violations. The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in which Roberto Lima, editor of Newark’s Brazilian Voice newspaper, was wrongfully arrested after notifying the Newark Police of a crime scene which one of his photographers had uncovered—and photographed. After arriving at the scene, police officers intimidated Lima, seized his camera and ordered him to turn over all copies of the photographs including originals.

Officer Samuel DeMaio, then Deputy Chief, now Acting Director of the Newark Police Department, ordered Lima not to publish the photos and told officers to physically seize his camera. While at the scene, DeMaio also demanded that the photographer disclose his immigration status, a demand for which DeMaio was later reprimanded by the state Attorney General’s office which has banned any law enforcement official from inquiring about the immigration status of a crime witness or victim.

After Lima voluntarily gave a statement at the police station, he was handcuffed to a bench until he agreed to turn over all originals and copies of the photographs.

Suit was filed charging violations of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the state constitution, and the New Jersey Reporter Shield Law.

Professor Baher Azmy, who filed the suit on behalf of Roberto Lima, stated: “The actions taken by Newark Police that day were a clear violation of Mr. Lima’s First Amendment rights as a journalist. Police cannot arrest innocent journalists to suppress stories that they may not like or may embarrass them.”

Roberto Lima received a federal Rule 68 offer-of-judgment from the City of Newark in the amount of $55,000. According to the New Jersey Law Journal, “Lima accepted and on Nov. 18, 2009, he applied to the court for a $55,000 judgment, "with costs to be taxed" in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which entitles prevailing civil rights plaintiffs to legal fees.”

Because not everyone who suffers an injustice can afford an attorney or court costs, the federal provision, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, allows those who have suffered civil rights injustices and are vindicated through the courts to recoup costs and fees— allowing many, who would otherwise be incapable of prosecuting a claim, to seek redress.

Ruling in favor of Roberto Lima, according to the New Jersey Law Journal, “the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in a precedential opinion, holding that because the offer was silent as to fees and costs, they were not part of it, and the district judge erred by looking at extrinsic evidence of what Newark intended.” Professor Azmy further noted that “this decision sets an important precedent clarifying a tricky area of law and reinforces the principle that civil rights plaintiffs are entitled under the law to full vindication for wrongs committed by public officials.”

document Read the New Jersey Law Journal article, US Court Gives Lesson in Navigating Labyrinth of Offer-of-Judgment Rule, here

document Read the Star Ledger article, Newark settles First Amendment lawsuit against police force for more than $50K, here