A settlement over Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and his staff blocking critics from the sheriff’s Facebook page will cost taxpayers nearly $30,000 in legal fees and damages.
As part of the legal agreement, Warren and his communications staff agreed to unblock all users and acknowledged that accounts operated by the Sheriff’s Office are public forums that should not block, censor or delete comments.
The settlement cost does not include time the county attorney spent on the case, or hours billed by a private law firm hired by Cobb to assist. A county spokesperson said those numbers were not available at press time.
The settlement was signed Thursday and ends a lawsuit brought by Jimmy Herndon, a former Sheriff’s Office sergeant running against Warren in 2020. It is not an admission of wrongdoing by the sheriff, or two members of his communications team who were also named.
The agreement covers Herndon’s legal fees of $29,000, and damages of $750.
Despite the language of the settlement, Warren continued to maintain on Friday that the Facebook account in question was his personal page.
“Here is an example of how a disgruntled former employee can continue to cost taxpayers,” Warren said in a statement. “He wanted to post angry untruthful comments on my personal social media page and had to resort to lawyers and legal fees to get his way. Definitely a waste of time and resources for all involved.”
Herndon’s attorney, Gerald Weber, said the page was run by Sheriff’s staff on county time and was the primary platform for communicating official news to the public.
“If it was not the official page, then the First Amendment would not have even applied,” Weber said. “To say that it’s his personal page would be inaccurate and contrary to all of that.”
In an email, Herndon said it was never about money for him. He pointed out that the American Civil Liberties Union warned Warren last February that it was unconstitutional to block critics on Facebook, but the sheriff took no remedial action until after the lawsuit was filed in November.
“I am satisfied that the issues are now resolved and that the Sheriff now recognizes my First Amendment rights,” Herndon wrote in an email. “I am dissatisfied that the Sheriff chose to make us file a lawsuit rather than comply with our request to not violate the Constitutional rights of not only myself but many others.”