A North Georgia city has reached a settlement with a woman who filed suit accusing officials there of violating her First Amendment rights by banning her from all city-owned property.
Catherine Corkren, of Atlanta, said on Thursday that she received a $43,697.50 settlement check from the city of Statham on Wednesday. Her lawsuit alleged city officials were punishing her for submitting nearly 100 open records requests and for being a vocal participant in city council meetings.
Early last year, Corkren began submitting requests about a 2015 traffic stop and driving the 60 miles from Atlanta to attend council meetings. She criticized city officials on social media and through the Facebook page of a group called Concerned Citizens of Statham. Her former partner had been involved in a protracted legal battle and civil rights lawsuit with the city over the traffic stop. After her former partner died, Corkren saw it as her duty to continue the fight, she said. Most of her requests centered around the police officer who stopped her partner. That officer later resigned, but Corkren continued her open records requests after he left.
Two people who were part of the Concerned Citizens group got banned from city property for life by the city council. Sondra Moore, of Hoschton, and Tony McDaniel sued Statham for violating their free speech rights. In November, the city dropped the ban on Moore and McDaniel, on the eve of their case being heard in district court. They have not received damages.
Just before Christmas the city dropped the ban against Corkren and agreed to pay her damages.
“All things considered, I think rescinding the ban was the appropriate decision,” said Harvey S. Gray, an attorney for the city in the Corkren case.
Corkren said she, Moore and McDaniel have resumed attending council meetings.
Zack Greenamyre, Corkren’s attorney, said in a statement that he and his client are happy Statham officials recognized her First Amendment right to speak to government. “We hope that Ms. Corkren’s courage to stand up for the Constitution will help to protect other Georgians’ free speech rights going forward.”
Corkren, however, isn’t as confident that her case will deter the city from taking similar action against anyone else officials view as a nuisance.
“I don’t think they’ve learned their lesson,” Corkren said. “It’s a refusal to give up on the old ways. They’re gonna hang on to them until they can’t hang on anymore.”