UPDATE, 3/13/20 — A petition to dismiss the request* for a restraining order was filed by Moulton, and granted at the Ten Mile court, at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 9, prior to the ex parte hearing scheduled for that afternoon. In an email sent March 11, Moulton said she had not had any direct contact with Gjerde since filing the initial request for a civil restraining order, and he had not responded to her repeated earlier communications, but that he had unblocked her on social media “right before the hearing.” She said she planned to have her attorney refile the request, potentially with the county as an additional defendant.
Gjerde did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication, but if he does this article will be updated to include his response.
MENDOCINO Co., 3/3/20 — A request for a “civil harassment restraining order” was filed yesterday by a Mendocino County resident and cannabis business owner against Mendocino County District 4 Supervisor Dan Gjerde, who represents the Fort Bragg area, claiming that the supervisor violated the free speech rights of his constituent by blocking the woman’s comments and banning her from Gjerde’s Facebook page without notice. The request is for a restraining order that would seek redress by having the supervisor unblock the claimant, and restore her ability to comment on his Facebook page.
In the restraining order request Moulton makes the argument that Gjerde has violated her First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights by abridging her ability to speak in a public forum by blocking her and deleting her comments without notice; Gjerde responded to the restraining order by calling it frivolous and politically motivated. This kind of restraining order is one that can be used in California under Civil Procedure Code 527.6(b). According to the code, “The course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the plaintiff.”
The restraining order request was filed Monday at the Ten Mile courthouse (a division of the Mendocino Superior Court) in Fort Bragg by Brandy Moulton. In filing she claims that Gjerde blocked comments and banned her from his official politician’s Facebook page, without warning when she criticized his performance in a Facebook post on February 22. She further claims that Gjerde refused contact with her for the previous six to eight months. The supervisor is currently running for re-election, facing Fort Bragg City Councilmember Lindy Peters in today’s primary elections.
Asked for comment Gjerde sent the following message:
“At this point, this appears to be a last minute political stunt, on the eve of an election. We know this legal complaint comes from a commercial cannabis cultivator who is unhappy I am honoring the wishes of the residential neighborhood on Simpson Lane, a residential neighborhood overwhelmingly opposed to large scale commercial cannabis cultivation. Preliminary legal analysis is that the Moulton/Evans filing should be thrown out by any judge.”Supervisor Dan Gjerde
An ex parte hearing concerning the temporary restraining order is currently scheduled to be heard at Ten Mile court on March 9 at 1:30 p.m.
The primary basis of the complaint is that Moulton claims Gjerde has restricted her rights to free speech as his constituent in a public forum, by removing her comments and subsequently blocking her without notice.
Moulton is a cannabis business owner, and claims that the conflict began over her attempts to engage Gjerde in discussion over proposed cannabis regulations. Moulton also claims that Gjerde has similarly blocked her fiance, Simeon Evans, from the his supervisor’s Facebook page, and that she has heard similar reports from others via Facebook. Though the two are engaged to be married Evans and Moulton are not formally business partners, however, Evans does own a parcel which is leased by Moulton’s company.
Moulton also claims that the conflict began concerning their business as it related to the Mitchel Creek “overlay zone” and cannabis permits, and that the supervisor subsequently refused to take her and Evans’ phone calls, disparaged them at public meetings, further, that he redrew a “overlay district” map to exclude Evans’ properties from being eligible to pursue future cannabis permits.
There are existing legal precedents in the last several years concerning whether public officials have the right to block their constituents on social media, including one case concerning President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and another involving Facebook and a Virginia politician, in which the court decision determined these social media platforms could be considered public forums.
Gjerde is facing a challenge to his seat in the primary elections today which could be decided by the voters this week as there are only two candidates in the District 4 supervisor race. In the case that either of the candidates receives more than 50% of the vote, no run-off will be held.
In a written statement, Moulton notes that she chose to file the restraining order aware of the impending election on Tuesday, stating that, “as [a] public official I believe he needs to defend his position to his constituents, especially going into an election,” and adding, “I decided to take this action which will no doubt leave me at an extreme disadvantage if Gjerde is elected.”
*Note: An earlier version of this article did not include the word “request” in this sentence. While that version of the article at no point stated that a restraining order had been issued, it may have been insufficiently clear as to the fact that a request had been made, rather than an actual restraining ordered being issued by the court. While the request was made to the court, it does not appear that the request for the restraining order was ever granted.