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ACLU Defends Motives for Lawsuit

Associated Press, USA
Sep. 13, 2003 • Monday September 15, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is defending itself from claims that its lawsuit over the Main Street plaza was written to impress the media, not the courts.

The ACLU sued the city after it surrendered a Main Street public access easement, and the free speech right that go with it, to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In its response to that lawsuit, the city derided the ACLU’s motives, saying their lawsuit was written for the media.

On Friday, the ACLU filed its response in U.S. District Court:

“What plaintiffs do not admit, and take exception to, is the defendants’ irresponsible charge that this complaint was drafted for the media.”

Playing to the media is something the ACLU says the city does best.

“The defendants’ charge against plaintiffs rings particularly hollow since Mayor (Rocky) Anderson has widely used the media to publicize the city’s every action in the controversy over the Main Street Plaza.”

In August the ACLU of Utah, with several plaintiffs, sued Anderson and the city over an agreement that gave the Mormon church a public easement through the Main Street Plaza in exchange for land where a community center is planned. The ACLU says the deal takes away constitutional guarantees of free expression on the plaza, and there was no secular reason for doing so.

City attorneys filed motions two weeks ago asking federal Judge Dale Kimball to dismiss the ACLU’s suit, because it didn’t conform to court rules that ask for a initial complaint to be “short and plain.” The ACLU’s suit, instead, was a 50-page “dissertation for maximum media advantage” that included conclusions and hearsay, city attorneys argued. Also, city attorneys argued the mayor should be dropped from the suit.

Friday, ACLU attorneys fired back saying that city attorneys will have ample time in the future to contend against those “conclusions” and “hearsay” and that the complaint’s language is not reason for dismissal. In short, ACLU attorneys said, city attorneys were upset that they were given too much information in the complaint, which hardly violates court rules.

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