Oct. 17, 2014
Alabama Supreme Court Lifts Gag Order on Customers and Attorneys in Exterminator Case
A Victory for Free Speech
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in response to a Public Citizen petition, the Alabama Supreme Court lifted a gag order that prevented more than 100 plaintiffs and their attorneys from explaining why consumers should be cautious about employing an exterminating company.
The decision represents a victory for the free speech rights of consumers, ensuring that they will have access to the best information in deciding what companies should get their hard-earned money.
The unusual gag order, issued Jan. 7, restricted attorney Thomas F. Campbell, anyone from his firm – Campbell Law PC – and any of the more than 100 customers whom the firm is representing in a suit against A-1 Exterminating from speaking publicly or privately about the company. On behalf of unhappy customers, Campbell is suing A-1 Exterminating for promising, but not providing, effective termite treatment.
Public Citizen filed a petition on Feb. 19 to the state Supreme Court asking it to rescind the gag order because it was impermissible under the First Amendment. In addition, it violated the First Amendment because it was issued without giving Campbell an opportunity to be heard and without evidence of a need for such an injunction.
“The gag order was grossly overbroad,” said Paul Alan Levy, attorney at Public Citizen. “We are pleased the court recognized that the order violated the First Amendment and reversed the decision.”
The court made clear that the exterminating company may ask for a narrower order, but that it will have to prove its vague claims that the attorneys made false statements about it, and that any restrictions on particular statements are needed to protect its right to a fair trial and reach no further than needed to protect that right. The court said, the “law demands a nuanced approach [that protects] the rights of parties to freely air their views and opinions in the ‘market square’ now taking the form of the electronic square known as the Internet.”