VICTORY! Trial court holds that city violated First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause by banning activist from City Hall

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Constitutional Structure, Free Speech, Government Transparency, Legal Filings

On September 1, 2023, the Phelps County Circuit Court held a trial in Rebecca Varney v. City of Edgar Springs, a case in which small-town officials banned a resident from City Hall for four years simply because she had persistently criticized the way the local government was run. Yesterday – almost three years to the day after the Freedom Center of Missouri filed this lawsuit on Ms. Varney’s behalf – the court granted the plaintiff a sweeping victory.

The judgment included blunt words for the defendants in finding that they had violated Varney’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as Missouri’s Sunshine Law:

“[T]he actions of defendants in this case, apparently seeking to intimidate and silence Varney from exercising her right to examine and be knowledgeable about the workings of her city government are disturbing, especially when considered in the context of the free and open democratic society in which we are purported to live.”


When notified of the court’s ruling Varney was elated, saying, “Wonderful! You won, we won, people all across Missouri won!”

Varney’s lawsuit included three distinct constitutional claims and several additional claims based on Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The court had previously ruled that the City of Edgar Springs had violated Varney’s right to Due Process of Law and also that it had committed several purposeful violations of the Sunshine Law by refusing to properly respond to Varney’s requests for access to public records. As a consequence of these constitutional and statutory violations, the court has ordered the City to pay Varney $750 in penalties and also to pay the costs and attorney fees Varney accrued in litigating this case.