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Federal judge denies Parma’s bid to escape accountability for police retaliation over Facebook parody

Friday, April 6, 2018

Parodist “had a First Amendment right to his Facebook page”

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Yesterday, the federal judge presiding over the national opioid lawsuits (and recently profiled by The New York Times) ruled that a Parma man who was prosecuted for publishing a Facebook parody about the Parma Police Department “had a constitutional right to his Facebook Page . . . and he still does today.”

In October 2017, Mr. Novak filed a civil lawsuit alleging that the City of Parma and two of its officers—Kevin Riley and Thomas Connor—deployed the Parma Police Department’s full resources—including child-pornography investigative specialists, a SWAT team that ransacked his apartment, and forensic technicians who searched his Playstation console for “evidence” of a crime—launched a sham prosecution to punish Mr. Novak for criticizing the Department’s insensitivity to racial injustice and other issues of public concern. The prosecution failed, and a jury swiftly acquitted Mr. Novak.

Mr. Novak’s lawsuit drew national coverage, and Parma and its officers filed motions to dismiss, arguing that citizens can be “lawfully investigated and arrested” if their Facebook pages “caused public confusion.” In opposition, Mr. Novak argued that his ordeal was “a textbook example of police retaliation,” and that Parma’s argument confirmed that Parma’s citizens knew the law better than the officers sworn to uphold it:

As to Facebook, the weapon in Novak’s supposed crime, the Officers would do well to read more and censor less. The lay citizens of Parma read them Novak’s rights on the Department’s official Facebook page—which remained undisturbed—as soon as the Officers arrested Novak, “warning everyone that the Parma PD is a danger to the community at large and does not support our Constitution.” “Satire is free speech,” the free people of Parma reminded the Officers, citing Hustler v. Falwell, and they told the Officers to read it. They knew arresting an “OBVIOUS SATIRIST” was “the very essence of a free speech violation.”

In yesterday’s opinion, the Court denied the defendants' motions, ruled that 26 of Mr. Novak’s federal and state claims may proceed, and rejected Parma’s argument that his Facebook page was a crime: "Despite the Defendants’ attempts to argue otherwise, it cannot be seriously contended that the Facebook Page was anything but a parody.” According to the opinion, Mr. Novak “alleges facts that would chill a person of extraordinary firmness—let alone ordinary firmness—from exercising his First Amendment rights.”

“The City’s actions and arguments are Orwellian,” said Patrick Kabat, one of Mr. Novak’s attorneys. “Parma’s attempt to escape accountability on the mere say-so of its officers is extraordinary, because the sworn statements they made to obtain sham warrants and at Mr. Novak’s criminal trial are the subject of his perjury claims. We are not surprised that Judge Polster, who is no stranger to important First Amendment issues, saw through the Parma defendants’ arguments, because the First Amendment is not suspended whenever government officials are offended online, and forbids them from appointing themselves jack-booted moderators of online speech. We look forward to further exposing this travesty and holding them accountable as the case proceeds.”

Mr. Novak’s claims against Parma, its police officers, and an as-yet-unidentified law-enforcement official include numerous alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as federal and state-law claims for privacy violations, malicious prosecution, false reports, perjury, falsification, obstruction of justice, and other claims. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, and captioned, Novak v. City of Parma, et al.

The Court's order denying most of Parma and the officers' motions to dismiss can be found here.

Subodh Chandra and Patrick Kabat of The Chandra Law Firm LLC,, represent Mr. Novak.

Related Practice Areas
Constitutional LawFirst AmendmentGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & Abuse

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