ACLU Names Colorado Attorney General as Defendant in Challenge to Criminal Libel Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
February 19, 2004 12:00 am

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DENVER– The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced today that it has added Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar as a defendant in a lawsuit that asks a federal court to declare Colorado’s criminal libel statute unconstitutional.

“”As long as this law remains on the books it is a potential threat to the right of free expression,”” said Bruce Jones, of Holland & Hart, an ACLU of Colorado cooperating attorney. “”For that reason, we have named Colorado’s chief legal officer as a defendant, and we are asking the court for a ruling that will have statewide effect and put this unconstitutional statute to rest, once and for all.””

The request amends a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of University of Northern Colorado student Thomas Mink, who was threatened with a felony prosecution under the criminal libel statute for his role in producing a satiric Internet publication, The Howling Pig. The day after the ACLU filed its lawsuit, Judge Lewis Babcock of the United States District Court issued a temporary restraining order forbidding the Weld County prosecutor’s office from filing the threatened charge of criminal libel.

Judge Babcock later determined that the temporary restraining order was no longer necessary after the Weld County prosecutor’s office announced that it would not charge Mink with a crime for any material in the first three issues of The Howling Pig.

According to the ACLU’s amended complaint, the criminal libel statute has been invoked several times in recent years to threaten or stifle expression that is protected by the Constitution. During a political campaign in 2002, for example, a political opponent of the Mayor of Georgetown filed a complaint of criminal libel against the mayor for statements on the mayor’s web site.

“”When we think of the countries that put people in prison for what they write, most people don’t think of the United States,”” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “”Yet the criminal libel statute remains on the books, authorizing several years in prison for publishing statements that are protected by the First Amendment.””

In the amended complaint, the ACLU has dropped all claims against the City of Greeley and Ken Warren, the Greeley detective who had searched Mink’s home and seized his computer in connection with the case.

In addition to Jones and Silverstein, Mink’s lawyers include Marcy Glenn, also at Holland & Hart.

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