Judge who blocked lawyer on Facebook can't be sued for First Amendment violation, 5th Circuit says

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A Texas judge who blocked a lawyer from his Facebook page and deleted the lawyer’s negative comments can’t be sued for a constitutional violation, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans upheld a district court decision tossing the lawyer’s First Amendment claim against Judge Michael Newman, a former Harris County, Texas, probate judge.

Law360 has coverage of the March 27 unpublished opinion.

Newman had used the Facebook page to share news about his personal life and to support his campaign for reelection. He deleted comments by the lawyer, Randall Kallinen of Houston, alleging that the judge had “court cronies” and did “favors for them at the expense of other litigants.”

The 5th Circuit agreed with a federal district judge, who said Newman’s page was not used for official business, and he was not acting “under the color of state law.” As a result, he couldn’t be sued for a First Amendment violation under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

“While the alleged facts here suggest that Judge Newman often used his page as a campaign tool, they do not support a claim that Judge Newman used his official position to silence Kallinen’s speech, or that Judge Newman’s Facebook page was a function of his official duties,” the 5th Circuit said. “At best, Kallinen has alleged enough facts to conclude that Judge Newman used his Facebook page strategically to create a favorable impression in the minds of voters.”

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