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Thornton Councilor Sued For First Amendment Violations On Social Media

Updated: Oct 18, 2018


Today the civil rights law firm Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP filed a lawsuit against the City of Thornton and Jan Kulmann, Mayor Pro Tem and City Councilmember of Thornton, for violating the First Amendment rights of Cliff Willmeng and Eddie Asher, both anti-fracking activists. Mr. Willmeng is a well-known activist against oil and gas expansion in Colorado. He is currently campaigning for the position of Boulder County Commissioner. One of the main platforms of his campaign is protecting the people, and environment, of Boulder County from oil and gas drilling. Mr. Asher is a United States Marine Corps reservist, and combat veteran, who is actively opposed to the expansion of fracking in Colorado. He believes strongly in exercising the freedoms he defends on a daily basis as a member of the Marine Corps.


Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann maintains an official Facebook page that supports fracking. She has repeatedly deleted anti-fracking posts and blocked people who comment on her Facebook page opposing fracking. This is an obvious free speech violation.


Within the past month, Mr. Willmeng and Mr. Asher both posted comments disagreeing with a Facebook post by Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann that outlined her opposition of Colorado Proposition 112, the Safer Setbacks Initiative. In response, Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann deleted Mr. Willmeng’s and Mr. Asher’s comments and banned them from commenting on her official Facebook page. Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann has been systematically deleting comments on her Facebook page that support Proposition 112, so that the public will have the impression that the community is against the Safer Setbacks Initiative.


Plaintiffs’ lawyer, Andy McNulty, has also discovered that Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann is burdened with a gross conflict of interest. At the same time Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann is using her government position to post pro-fracking messages on her official Facebook page, and deleting the comments of opponents, she is a salaried employee of Noble Energy. Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann has a direct economic stake in Proposition 112 failing. Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann’s use of her government Facebook page to silence proponents of the Safer Setbacks Initiative is not only a clear First Amendment violation but a gross conflict of interest.


“It is clear that the First Amendment prohibits government officials from silencing critics because of their views. Jan Kulmann’s censorship of dissenting views and cultivation of a false impression that Proposition 112 is universally opposed is a familiar propaganda playbook employed by authoritarian leaders across the globe,” said Andy McNulty.


“The community members most impacted by oil and gas drilling have always experienced disenfranchisement and the elimination of our voice from political life. It is a condition of corporate power, and the infringement upon our First Amendment rights is as bipartisan as the subservience of the Colorado government to corporate and fossil fuel interests. I understand that survival of the people and planet will require free political communication so that the rights of people become superior to the rights of corporations. This is something we will fight for until it is systemically recognized and respected,” said Cliff Willmeng.


“We are seeing clearly in Colorado public policy that runs counter to the greater good, but is beneficial to corporate interests. This policy is being advanced and that the only way to advance that policy is to stifle public discourse. As a currently serving member of the armed forces, a citizen of Colorado, and constituent of Jan Kulmann, I draw the line when I see people’s First Amendment rights being trampled for the advancement of corporate interests,” said Eddie Asher.


We are asking that the federal court enjoin Thornton and Mayor Pro Tem Kulmann from blocking Mr. Willmeng and Mr. Asher, and bar her from deleting their comments.

Attached to this email is a copy of the filed Complaint and Motion for Preliminary Injunction in this case.

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