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County Commission, Along With Commissioners Williams and DuPree, Sued In Federal Ct. for Violating Citizen's 1st Amendment Rights

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last week the Columbia County, County Commission, along with veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams and the recently defeated Jody DuPree, was served with a federal lawsuit claiming that the two commissioners and the County Commission violated citizen Barbara Lemley's First Amendment rights at two County Commission meetings in 2011. Ronald Williams and Jody DuPree are being sued individually.

The lawsuit was brought through what is known as a U.S.C. 42-1983 claim, which is a civil rights action. The claim simply put is that  Commissioners DuPree and Williams used and abused their power under color of law to violate Ms. Lemley's 1st Amendment rights and the County Commission sat by and allowed them to do it.

Barbara Lemley addresses the County Commission
Barbara Lemley addresses the County Commission in 2011.


The suit claims that Ms. Lemley frequently attends board meetings and that she "has often exercised her First Amendment rights by participating in the “public comments” portion of such meetings, during which citizens may address the Board on issues of public concern within the County, and also in participating in “public hearings” before the Board."

The suit claims that at a meeting on March 3, 2011, Ms. Lemley addressed the Board and spoke in opposition to the appointment of Jack Berry to the WellFlorida Council Board of Directors.

Jack Berry has been a candidate for public office; is the past republican leader; former chairman of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority; and the Hosp Auth General Manager. Mr. Berry has stated publically that Jody DuPree was his protege.

Additionally, the suit explains that based on her interests in learning about individual commissioners and working toward the election of the most qualified commissioners, Ms. Lemley made inquiries about some or all of the former and current commissioners.

The suit goes on to state, "At no time during the exercise of her First Amendment rights, her speaking at public meetings, and her conduct of such inquiries did Plaintiff violate the civil or legal rights of anyone, violate the law, or threaten to cause or actually cause injury or harm to anyone."

Commissioner Jody DuPree
Commissioner Jody DuPree

Berated in public for speaking out: Nothing new in Columbia County

The suit claims that on Thursday, March 17, 2011, Defendant DuPree, while serving as Board Chair, spent ten to fifteen minutes speaking venomously and disparagingly about Ms. Lemley. Commissioner DuPree's statements included referencing Ms. Lemley by name, use of the words “contempt” and “despicable,” accusing her of “public attack” of Jack Berry, of “pressing [her] personal agenda,” and of conducting a “tirade,” and threatening Ms. Lemley to “make sure that every friend you got [sic] knows what you tried to do.”

On April 21, 2011, it was Commissioner Williams turn to lace into Ms. Lemley, this time after the meeting had adjourned and been hastily reconvened. That event was covered by the Observer.

The law suit states the following:

At the regular meeting of the Board on the evening of Thursday April 21, 2011, after the meeting was adjourned and some attendees had left the room, and while others were filing out, from a location seated at his desk in a Board member work area, Defendant Williams shouted to Defendant DuPree, who was still at or near the dais, “Mr. Chairman, I got somethin [sic],” and then, “may we call the meetin [sic] back to order?”  After resuming the meeting in front of a portion of the earlier audience, DuPree invited Williams to speak, and Williams proceeded to speak disparagingly about Plaintiff, specifically accusing Plaintiff, untruthfully, of “plunderin around [sic]” his truck and personal equipment, stating further that he “will be filin a incident report with the Sheriff Department [sic], because I don’t–I don’t put it past you to plant drug[s] or put explosives on my truck,” and stating further that “if I beed blowed up [sic], you all know what’s goin on.”

The Observer filed a records request with the Sheriff for the incident report. There was none on file.

"A custom and practice of unconstitutional retaliation"

Articles of interest:
 • Commissioner Ronald Williams challenges the Observer to “go behind the barn.”
 • Homeless County Commission Calls The Cops
 • Columbia County Commissioner accuses citizen of "Plunderin around" his personal equipment.

The suit claims that the County Commission, besides violating Ms. Lemley's 1st Amendment rights, "engaged in a custom and practice of unconstitutionally retaliating against citizens for public speech on matters of public concern."

The suit continues that the County Commission in publically humiliating Ms. Lemley at subsequent Board meetings and/or in participating in the decisions to humiliate Ms. Lemley demonstrated "the type of retaliatory conduct that would deter a person of ordinary sensibilities from exercising his or her First Amendment rights to speak publically, and to address the Board at public meetings on matters of public concern. The actions of the Board were ... motivated both to retaliate and to deter Plaintiff from the further exercise of her First Amendment speech rights."

"Malicious and willful"

"Williams’ and Dupree’s conduct in publically humiliating Plaintiff is the type of retaliatory conduct that would deter a person of ordinary sensibilities from exercising his or her First Amendment right to speak. The actions of Defendants Williams and DuPree were taken in violation of Plaintiff’s clearly established rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to be free from retaliation motivated by the exercise of First Amendment speech rights. The actions of Williams and DuPree were taken under color of law with the intent to harm Plaintiff. These actions and inactions were malicious and willful."

Filed in federal court

Ms. Lemley's law suit is filed in federal court beyond the reach of Columbia County's infamous good ole boys and Florida's Third Judicial Circuit. She is asking for both compensatory and punitive damages.

Ms. Lemley told the Observer. "I sat defenseless as I was held out for public humiliation and scorn by Commissioners DuPree and Williams during public meetings of the County Commission. None of the other commissioners asked them to stop. I raised my family in this community and you can't imagine how embarrassing this was for both me and my children. I think they abused their power and should be punished. The First Amendment is first for a reason. It is now in the hands of the Federal Court."

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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