ACLU of Colorado Sues To Stop County's Criminal Libel Investigation Over "Howling Pig" Newsletter

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
January 8, 2004 12:00 am

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DENVER — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado today filed a lawsuit in federal district court to stop Weld County law enforcement authorities from pursuing a criminal investigation and prosecution of Thomas Mink, the publisher of a satiric Internet-based publication called “”The Howling Pig.””

“”There is no legitimate place for a criminal libel statute in a free society,”” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “”Civil lawsuits provide an adequate remedy for defamation. No one should be threatened with jail for what they write or publish.””

Mink began publishing The Howling Pig last fall. The online newsletter contains satiric commentary on issues of concern to the University of Northern Colorado community. After three issues, according to the ACLU lawsuit, officers with the Greeley Police Department appeared at Mink’s home with a search warrant, announced that they were investigating a felony charge of criminal libel. The police confiscated Mr. Mink’s computer and all electronically stored files and data. Police said they were acting on a complaint filed by Junius Peake, a well-known UNC professor who is spoofed in Mink’s publication.

But as the ACLU said in legal papers, a criminal prosecution under Colorado’s criminal libel statute violates the right of free expression and freedom of the press.

“”This case illustrates the danger of permitting overbroad unconstitutional statutes to remain on the books,”” said Marcy Glenn, a Holland & Hart attorney who is co-counsel for the ACLU along with Bruce Jones of the same firm. “”Police relied on this unconstitutional statute to search Mr. Mink’s home and cart off his computer and all his files on the ground that they provide ‘evidence’ of crime.””

The ACLU is asking for a declaratory judgment that the criminal libel statute is unconstitutional and an emergency order blocking prosecution. The lawsuit also alleges that the search and seizure violates the Fourth Amendment and seeks the immediate return of Mink’s computer and files.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Weld County District Attorney A.J. Dominguez, Jr., the City of Greeley, and Detective Ken Warren of the Greeley Police Department. The lawsuit also names John Doe #1, who is identified as the unknown assistant district attorney who reviewed the application and approved the application for search warrant.

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