A Douglas County commissioner has cost the county’s taxpayers more than $170,000 in legal fees after he failed to comply with a settlement over social media posts.
Commissioner Kelly Robinson reneged on a settlement reached with the county last May from blocking what he thought were unfavorable people on his Facebook page.
The settlement called for Robinson to keep his private Facebook page separate from any pages he operates in his position as an elected official and for Robinson to unblock any citizens he had blocked from his public Facebook pages.
After Robinson failed to comply with the first settlement with Douglasville resident Brenda Bohanan, she filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Robinson of violating her First Amendment rights.
Douglas County hired former state attorney general Sam Olens’ law firm to defend the case. The price tag of $163,172 was paid to the firm to simply reach another settlement in the case, according to a report this week by Fox 5.
Bohanan was represented by Atlanta constitutional law attorney Gerry Weber and law professor and UGA First Amendment Clinic Director Clare Norins. Weber and Norins were paid $9,999 by the county as part of the settlement of the federal lawsuit reached in November.
That means the county taxpayers footed the bills for at least $173,171 in attorney's fees to the two sides in the federal lawsuit after Robinson failed to adhere to terms from the settlement with the county in May.
The new settlement said Robinson must “maintain a clear separation between his private Facebook page and any page he operates in his capacity as a public official,” according to a release from the University of Georgia’s First Amendment Clinic.
As part of the settlement Robinson must keep his private Facebook set to be inaccessible by the public and to be used only for communicating with friends and family members.
While he holds public office, Robinson agreed as part of the settlement to maintain a disclaimer on his private Facebook page that says, “This is a personal page. For political or constituent matters, go to @commissioner kellyrobinsonofficial.”
If Robinson violates the terms of the latest settlement, he has three days to fix the page or he will be fined $100 a day, according to the agreement.
“The lawsuit and settlement put Georgia public officials on notice that when they operate interactive social media accounts in their official capacity, the First Amendment does not permit them to block or censor users’ speech on the account based on dislike or disagreement with the viewpoint being expressed,” the First Amendment Clinic said.
After being sworn-in for a fourth term Tuesday, Robinson briefly addressed the television station’s report in his address to the citizens.
“I don’t need to add to that conversation,” Robinson said. “Don’t call me out on things, and you think I won’t respond. Let’s keep Douglas County real. We are here to serve.”
Robinson told Fox 5 he used $10,000 of his commissioner’s budget to have someone delete all the public postings since 2009 from his personal Facebook page.
“Federal lawsuits are expensive, but my life was on the line,” Robinson told Fox 5 in the report. “I have the right to be defended. I always made it clear, they were never going to get access to my personal page.”
Because he says he is legally blind, Robinson said he only knows about the social media comments if they are read to him.