Editors win right to refuse ad

NEW YORK Student editors at the City University of \nNew York School of Law at Queens College (CUNY) defeated \na former student in September 1995 in a lawsuit filed \nagainst them for refusing to publish his classified advertisement in \nthe student newspaper. \n

Jackson Leeds, a 1993 graduate from CUNY Law \nSchool, brought action against the student editors of \nThe Brief and school officials, contending that the paper’s refusal to \npublish a classified advertisement in the student newspaper \nviolated his First Amendment rights.\n

The advertisement asked for material that would \n"discredit" certain faculty and administrators at the school "for use in \na federal civil rights action against the school."\n

The editors refused to publish the advertisement in \nthe beginning of February because they felt it could be \ndefamatory and might expose them and the paper to lawsuits.\n

When Leeds was notified that the ad had been declined, \nhe filed a complaint claiming that his First and \nFourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the editors’ \nrefusal to print the advertisement.\n

In his complaint, Leeds stated that certain administrators \nand faculty at the school "prevented the publication" of \nhis \nadvertisement in The Brief without giving any details of \nhow this occurred. Leeds alleged that the school threatened \nretaliation against the paper for printing articles he had published in \nthe paper and that the school influenced The \nBrief by threats of withholding financial support and computer equipment. \nThe judge ruled that Leeds provided insufficient information \nto prove the allegations. \n

In the judge’s final conclusion, he states "furthermore, \nthe nature of this case-involving, as it does, the First \nAmendment rights of a student newspaper to exercise its discretion \nin accepting advertisements requires a more substantial \nshowing than Leed’s factually unsupported allegation of influence \nupon the newspaper editors by state actors at the law school."\n

He also states that "it is difficult to believe that all \nthree student editors would have supinely accepted the \nalleged intimidation of the school administration. Even if they had \nfelt intimidated, students being students, more than likely \nthey would have at least complained to some of their \nstudent colleagues about the administration or \nfaculty pressure and the issue, in the natural course of events, \nwould inevitably have become a subject of student discussion at the law school."\n

Leeds alleged that the student editors, although not employed \nby the law school, were acting under color of state law in their \ndecision not to publish his advertisement.\n

Courts have consistently held that only government officials or \n"state actors" can infringe First Amendment rights. Student editors have \nbeen found not to be state actors when making their own content decisions.\n

In dismissing the case, the judge ruled in \nLeeds v. Meltz, 898 F. Supp. 146 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) that it was \nclear that the paper’s editors who are law students are not state actors.\n

Leed’s was not satisfied with the judge’s decision and has appealed \nthe case to the United States District Court for the Appeals of Second Circuit.

reports, Spring 1996