Ballard, Tussing complain about civil rights issuesCounty critics Bill Ballard and Phil Tussing have followed up their complaints about Clatsop County's public comment policy with a lawsuit in federal court.

The pair's lawyer, David Force of Eugene, filed suit last week in U.S. District Court against the county and County Commissioner Sam Patrick.

Ballard and Tussing are asking for $42,000 from the county and $4,000 from Patrick for alleged violations of their civil rights last December when a sheriff's deputy searched bags containing props that the two brought for a presentation at a county commissioners' meeting.

The pair are also seeking an injunction to block the county's public speaking rules, which prohibit abusive or slanderous comments from audience members at commissioner meetings.

The lawsuit stems from a tort claim made against the county last May in which the two claimed that they suffered "extreme emotional distress" when a deputy searched bags of props the pair brought to the meeting. Ballard and Tussing dressed as Santa Claus and the Grinch and handed out pieces of coal and other items to the commissioners.

The two complain that the county improperly revised the county charter in 2001. Earlier this year they and Bhagwati Poddar filed suit in Clatsop County Circuit Court against commissioners Lylla Gaebel, Richard Lee and Helen Westbrook, claiming the three were holding office illegally because their elections last year took place under provisions of the revised charter.

In April a state judge dismissed the case, and two months later another judge ordered the Ballard, Tussing and Poddar to cover the county's $9,000 in legal fees.

The public comment policy was put in place last year after regular appearances by Ballard and Tussing at board meetings in which the two made statements that often including personal insults against commissioners and county staff. The policy requires audience members who wish to address the board to sign forms listing the rules, which, among other things, prohibit comments that are "profane, obscene, abusive, threatening or slanderous."

Patrick was chair of the commission last year when the public comment policy was put in place.

Ballard and Tussing complained that the policy amounts to prior restraint and a violation of their constitutional rights.

The rules proved to be little of a deterrent to the pair, who continued to speak harshly toward commissioners and staff at commissioner meetings. At a meeting in August Tussing called the commissioners "dirty rotten scoundrels" who should be "sent to the rock pile."


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