I hope Kirby Delauter doesn’t sue me

Meet Kirby Delauter. I don’t have permission to write about him, but to his surprise, I don’t need it either.

Mr. Delauter is a member of Frederick County Council (R) in Maryland. Last week, he was upset regarding a story that appeared in the Frederick News Post that discussed inter-office disputes about parking spaces and keys.  He responded as such on Facebook:

Kirby Delauter

Kirby Delauter

Yes, that’s right: the publicly elected official told a reporter to not contact him or “use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form in the future.”  When the reporter politely – and appropriately – told him that there was no such requirement, Delauter responded: “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an Attorney. Your rights stop where mine start”

He’s wrong, of course.  Like, really wrong.  Said the News Post’s managing editor, Terry Headlee:

“Kirby Delauter can certainly decline to comment on any story. But to threaten to sue a reporter for publishing his name is so ridiculously stupid that I’m speechless. It’s just a pointless, misguided attempt to intimidate and bully the press and shows an astonishing lack of understanding of the role of a public servant.”

The First Amendment gives anyone the right to say or write anything they want about a person.  There are limits, of course – you say untrue things, etc. – but those limits are stretched even further for public officials, and that is exactly what Mr. Delauter is. He has ZERO case here – reporters can certainly report on public events and the public actions of elected officials.  I always thought that went without saying.

The Frederick News Post responded in brilliant fashion:

All Kirby Delauter is doing yet again is displaying his inability to control his temper, embarrassing himself, his district, the county and those who voted him into office. If he wants to govern like a taxpayer, he needs to respect the taxpayers whose money provides his paycheck, stop this silly, inflammatory nonsense, and get to work.

By the way, if there is any doubt about how clever this editorial is, check out the first letter of every paragraph.

So, how many people does Councilman Delauter now have to sue?  Let’s search for Councilman Delauter on Google News:

Above: A LOT of people for Councilman Delauter to sue

Above: A LOT of people for Councilman Delauter to sue

He’s not doing too badly on Twitter either.  Check out the hashtag #KirbyDelauter.

The results of this are obvious: in telling people that they didn’t have the right to use his name without his permission, Councilman Delauter became an international poster child for the arrogance of public officials. None of us like being criticized.  I’m the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and I was once called a Nazi at a public meeting.  That wasn’t fun.  It’s also too bad for me.  People are entitled to call me whatever they want (within very broad limits) – that’s their right as citizens, and it’s my obligation as a public official to take it.  Mr. Delauter couldn’t be more wrong, and he’s making every public official look terrible with his asinine assertion.

Fortunately, Mr. Delauter came to that conclusion as well.  In a statement, he retracted his legal threat, saying:

I thought I had long ago learned the lessonof waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key, but apparently I didn’t learn that lesson as well as I should have. Of course, as I am an elected official, the  Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county — that comes with the job. So yes, my statement to the  Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.”
Credit to Councilman Delauter for admitting his mistake in a forthright manner.

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