First Amendment Clinic takes center stage in civil rights lawsuit

First amendment clinic staff and interns gather on the law school stairs to pose for a photo

In a pivotal legal development, Chris Martin, a Cleveland resident, has initiated a federal civil rights lawsuit against Cleveland City Council and Council President Blaine Griffin. The lawsuit centers around an incident on September 25 during a City Council meeting, where Martin alleges he was unjustly silenced while exercising his right to public comment.

Represented by First Amendment Clinic attorneys Sara Coulter and Siobhan Gerber and Certified Legal Interns Jacob Cohen, Patrick Elliott, Nneka Onyekwuluje, Hannah Scifres and Brooke White, Martin contends that City Council and Council President Griffin violated his First Amendment rights. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, asserts that these violations are a direct result of what Martin claims are unconstitutional policies governing public comments at City Council meetings.

The First Amendment Clinic, an integral part of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, plays a significant role in this legal challenge. Tasked with providing hands-on experience to law students while contributing to the defense and promotion of First Amendment rights, the clinic is committed to protecting free expression and free speech through direct client representation and advocacy.

Established in 2020, the clinic focuses on litigation involving freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition; and offers pro bono legal services to those who rely on the First Amendment to collect and publish information, freely criticize government policy and officials, and express differing viewpoints on matters of public concern. The First Amendment Clinic proudly protects its clients’ free expression and free speech rights.

The clinic offers its students, who are Certified Legal Interns within the State of Ohio, the unique opportunity to take the lead in client interactions, negotiate with opposing counsel, and speak up in court—all under the supervision of licensed attorneys. The clinic gives Certified Legal Interns the opportunity to gain practical lawyering skills and gives them first-hand insight into life as a civil litigator. Its goal is to train a new generation of free speech advocates, and serve as a resource for organizations, students, journalists and citizens defending and advancing First Amendment issues.

“Censoring Mr. Martin while he was engaged in core political speech was an affront  to Mr. Martin, and a serious violation of his rights under the First Amendment—and  really to all of our rights to hear what Mr. Martin hoped to say,” said Andy Geronimo, Director of the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve  University School of Law. “Government officials cannot silence speech simply  because it criticizes them or offends their sensibilities, and Council’s lack of  meaningful action on this matter unfortunately made it necessary for Mr. Martin to  proceed with a lawsuit to vindicate and enforce his First Amendment rights.”