After a Washington federal judge ruled last month that local public transit officials ran afoul of the First Amendment in delaying the posting of a controversial advertisement in rail stations, the agency agreed to pay $35,000 in attorney fees and costs to the group behind the ad, according to a document (PDF) recently obtained by Legal Times.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, a New York-based organization, sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in September after learning that the agency was postponing the ads. The ad read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man," with the tag, "Support Israel/Defeat Jihad."
WMATA lawyers argued that they had a "compelling" interest in delaying the ad because it posed a threat to public safety, but AFDI claimed that by indefinitely delaying the ad, the agency was in violation of the First Amendment. In early October, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that while the ad did have elements of hate speech, it was nonetheless protected under the First Amendment and ordered WMATA to post it.
On October 18, the two sides notified the court that they had reached a settlement on attorney fees and costs that WMATA would be responsible for paying to AFDI. At the time, WMATA declined to disclose the amount, saying that the settlement was confidential.
According to an email from the WMATA general counsel's office obtained through a public records request, the agency agreed to pay $35,000.
The agency, through spokesman Dan Stessel, declined to comment on the details of the settlement. Lead counsel for the group behind the ad, Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., also declined to comment, directing questions about the settlement to WMATA.
After Collyer ordered the agency to post the ad on October 5, it was posted in four Metro rail stations on October 8.
The dispute drew national attention, since the lawsuit was filed several weeks after a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Metro officials said they were warned that the ad could incite violence in the same vein as an online video mocking Islam that spurred protests throughout the Middle East and had been blamed, at least initially by some officials, for the attack in Benghazi.
Similar litigation played out in New York, where a Manhattan federal judge found that the ad was protected speech and ordered officials to allow it to be posted.