The Reporter sues Delaware County supervisors, county attorney

Federal lawsuit cites constitutional infringements


The Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Greenberg Traurig, LLP filed a federal lawsuit Monday, Dec. 4, against Delaware County, 17 supervisors and Delaware County Attorney Amy Merklen on behalf of The Reporter in the Northern District of New York. 

The lawsuit cites First and Fourteenth Amendment violations of the U.S. Constitution when supervisors revoked The Reporter’s designation as an official county paper in retaliation for its coverage. The designation as an “official” county paper provides a news outlet with important advertising revenue from government-funded legal notices.

The lawsuit cites a constitutional rights violation of The Reporter when the county attorney issued a “gag directive” prohibiting employees from communicating with The Reporter’s staff.

“By its own words, the county has demonstrated that its actions against The Reporter here were clearly intended to punish a news outlet for its coverage. Such retaliatory conduct violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Heather Murray, managing attorney of the Cornell Clinic’s Local Journalism Project. “Blanket restrictions on government employees speaking with the media on any topic of public concern also raise serious constitutional concerns and are legally unenforceable.”

Until its de-designation as an official county newspaper in March 2022, The Reporter had been publishing the county’s public notices since its founding in 1881. A year after the de-designation, county officials sent an unprecedented letter to the publisher of The Reporter, signed by 39 county officials, in which they demanded The Reporter “make immediate changes” to its coverage of the county.

The actions by Delaware County were the subject of a June 18, 2023 feature in The New York Times titled, “How Local Officials Seek Revenge on Their Hometown Newspapers.”

“A free press is the cornerstone of our democratic system,” said Kim and Randy Shepard, publishers of The Reporter; “We remain committed to our mission as a government watchdog and to bringing greater transparency to Delaware County.”

The Reporter is represented by Clinic Director Mark Jackson, Murray, Michael J. Grygiel of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, with critical assistance from Clinic alumna Yifei Yang and law student Matthew Hornung through the Clinic’s Local Journalism Project.

The Local Journalism Project provides legal assistance to news outlets, journalists, researchers and other newsgatherers in aid of their critical function of reporting and communicating important news and information to their communities. The Local Journalism Project also provides counsel on a range of issues crucial to the operation of community newsrooms.

*  Click  here to read  the lawsuit filed in federal court.