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Harrodsburg, Former Employee Reach Settlement In First Amendment Case

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Robert Moore
Herald Staff

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a former employee of the City of Harrodsburg who said the city denied his first amendment rights to speak at a city commission meeting.

Albert Moore served as supervisor of the public works department until June 2021, when he was terminated by the Harrodsburg City Commission, who also accepted the resignations of five other employees from the department. The city’s employment policy allows employees to appeal termination decisions within five days.

According to legal documents made available by Moore’s attorney, one year later Moore called the city asking to discuss his termination with “Larry, Curly, and Moe,” referring to former Harrodsburg City Commissioner Billy Whitenack, current City Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Marvin “Bubby” Isham, and former Commissioner Adam Johnson at the city meeting scheduled for June 13, 2022.

According to the court documents, the clerk was concerned Moore’s appearance at the meeting would be “disruptive” and “did not think it was going to be a civil conversation.” The clerk spoke with Harrodsburg City Attorney Norrie Currens. After speaking with Moore, Currens denied his request to speak, stating the time and place to dispute his termination had passed. Moore asked again to speak on June 21, 2022, saying he wanted to talk about corruption in Harrodsburg. Currens again denied his request to speak because, Harrodsburg had canceled its welcome guest forum, according to the documents.
Moore brought suit against the city with United States District Court Eastern District Of Kentucky Central Division in Lexington, contending the city had unconstitutionally discriminated against the content or viewpoint of his speech.

According to the judge’s opinion, there was no dispute over the facts in the case. City Clerk Shavonna Huffman testified Moore was the first person since she started as clerk in 2019 that Harrodsburg did not place on the agenda to speak.
In an opinion dated June 2, 2023, Chief Judge Danny C. Reeves ruled the City of Harrodsburg, which had “provided speakers with a virtually limitless platform to communicate with commissioners” had “impermissibly restricted Moore’s viewpoint and content of his speech in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Reeves granted Moore’s motion for a summary judgement.

After the court’s ruling, the city agreed to pay Moore $70,000—$2,000 for Moore’s compensatory damages and $68,000 in attorneys’ fees) to Moore’s attorney, Robert L. Thompson of Thompson Legal LLC in Louisville. Moore was also represented by Matthew Miller-Novak of Cincinnati.

“The Court’s ruling serves as an important reminder of the significance of free speech and the protection it is afforded under the United States Constitution,” Thompson said in a statement. “The case highlights the importance of maintaining open forums for public expression and the limitations imposed on governments in restricting speech based on content or viewpoint.”

When reached for comment, Currens said the city had relied on guidance from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office, which stated, “The right of the public to attend a public meeting under the Open Meetings Act does not include the right to participate in the meeting and address the members of the agency; it is a statutory right “to observe with their eyes and ears what transpires at those meetings.”

“Mr. Moore is a disgruntled former employee who had been afforded two prior opportunities to speak to the Commission and had failed to appear,” Currens said. “The Federal Court holding is very narrow and is premised on the fact that prior administrations had allowed any person to speak, for any length of time, about any topic. Because of the prior Commission’s actions, the current Commission could not restrict Mr. Moore’s speech even if it dealt with his termination from employment one year earlier and even though he had been afforded two other opportunities to address the Commission.”

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1 Comment

  1. Fran Ruggles on June 28, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    Where is Mr. Moore’s comment? I’m sure he would be happy to reply to Currens’ less than factual comment. It’s time for the Herald to become impartial and stop being a stenographer for City Hall. People in this town need to start demanding more intellect for their tax dollars when it comes to public servants.

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