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Motion against Irvine mayor to unblock Facebook users withdrawn as 1st Amendment lawsuit continues

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea is facing a lawsuit for allegedly violating a resident’s 1st Amendment rights.
(Courtesy of the city of Irvine)

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea has made her Facebook profile private in response to a lawsuit launched by an Irvine resident who she allegedly blocked for posting comments in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The firm representing resident Lamar West recently withdrew a motion for a preliminary injunction calling for Shea to unblock him and others who posted similar sentiments in support of the movement. It is still pursuing a lawsuit against Shea that alleges she violated West’s 1st Amendment rights by blocking his ability to engage in open discussion during a critical period of debate in the country regarding police brutality and racism.

The lawsuit, which is seeking damages, contends that Shea used her Facebook page as a public forum.

Shea claimed in a text message this week that the lawsuit is a “political maneuver” by former Irvine mayor Larry Agran, a political opponent of Shea’s who recently announced his candidacy for City Council in the coming November election.

“They basically vacated their attack on me,” Shea said over the phone. “The case has basically been dismissed based on they pulled away from their injunction. They agreed to not move forward, and all we have dealing with right now is the case for damages. We are working on that right now.”

Monique Alarcon, an attorney with the firm representing West — Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman — said Shea partially resolved the issue when she made her profile private.

“Mr. West’s lawsuit against Mayor Shea is still ongoing,” Alarcon said. “After we filed our motion for a preliminary injunction, Mayor Shea made her Facebook profile that is in dispute completely private and accessible to only her friends and not the general public, in response to our litigation. As a result, we withdrew our motion, but we are still pursuing Mr. West’s claims for violations of his 1st Amendment rights.”

Shea’s private page now says underneath her name “Irvine resident This is not a government page.” Shea has a separate public Facebook profile where she posts city-related information.

West’s attorneys are awaiting a response from Shea’s lawyers.

Shea first came under fire in early June for deleting and blocking comments supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement on her Facebook profile. At the time, she contended that the profile page was for personal use, and that she had a separate Facebook profile for public dialogue. Public officials are legally allowed to hold private social media accounts.

However, Shea posted similar statements on both pages during the Black Lives Matter protests in June, and the complaint says that Shea has used her profile “since its inception ... to disseminate information regarding mayoral and city council activities ... all with greater frequency than her [official] page.”

Shea’s comments in June — made amid nationwide protests that were sparked after the death of George Floyd — were strongly in support of her police department and critical of protesters. They provoked heated discussion on her page.

“We have been named one of the Safest Cities in America for 15 years in a row and I will not agree to reduce our public safety funding especially after seeing the violence we have endured as a nation this past week. If you are coming into Irvine to promote an agenda, and protest for lesser public safety protection, best you turn around and find another city to compromise,” Shea wrote on her Facebook page on June 3, according to the complaint.

Many responded critically to Shea’s post, including West, a Black man.

“Like other educated people have mentioned, it’s OK for you to support the movement and not defund the police but you don’t want to do either. I can hear the racist ancestors of yours in this post, and it’s sickening. Enjoy your position while it [lasts],” West wrote, according to the complaint.

West was blocked soon after the post.

Shea has received criticism from the Thurgood Marshall Bar Assn., Orange County’s only Black bar association, the Knight First Amendment Institute and the ACLU of Southern California for her actions on Facebook.

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