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Clinic Publishes Op-Ed on Judicial Transparency

Clinic Director Mark Jackson and Local Journalism Project Managing Attorney Heather Murray recently published an Op-Ed in the Albany Times Union to amplify the efforts of journalist Janon Fisher to shed light on the judicial appointment process in NYC. While the trial court in the Clinic’s public records suit ruled that candidate applications for appointed judgeships must be released to the public with minimal redactions to shield private information, an appellate court late last year made it harder to hold power to account by overturning the lower court. Mr. Fisher has sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals with the Clinic’s assistance. The Court takes up only a small percentage of the requests to hear cases like ours, but we’re hopeful that ours will be one of them.

Thanks to the fantastic Clinic team that has contributed to work on this case thus far starting way back in 2021, including Ava LubellChristina NeitzeyConnor Flannery (who argued before both the trial court and the Appellate Division), Nyssa KruseSvetlana (Aika) Riguera, and Sun Shen.

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Clinic Alum Argues to Unseal Settlement Records in Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Suit

Cornell First Amendment Clinic alum Connor Flannery ’23 argued in the Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County, on February 26, 2023, seeking access to sealed settlement agreements on behalf of local journalism client The Patriot News/PennLive. The Clinic’s client seeks access to the settlement agreements in a wrongful death suit to shed further light on an issue of great public concern involving a young mother killed by an oncoming train as she was exiting a boat ramp in Halifax, Pennsylvania. Also pictured are Mr. Flannery’s supervising attorneys Heather Murray, Managing Attorney of the Cornell Local Journalism Project, Paula Knudsen Burke, Local Legal Initiative Attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Diane Siegel Danoff, a partner at Dechert LLP.

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Clinic Kicks Off Another Semester with Spring 2024 Bootcamp

The Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic kicked off the Spring 2024 semester with another informative and inspiring Bootcamp. This Bootcamp treated five new Clinic students and ten returning students to three days of learning and discussion. Speakers included speaker Daniel Novack, Vice President, Associate General Counsel at Penguin Random House, on ongoing legal challenges to book-banning legislation; a panel of some of our stellar local journalism clients and co-counsel, including Teresa Bonner at Penn Live, Jo Ciavaglia at Bucks County Courier Times, Janon Fisher at Newsday, Paula Knudsen Burke at Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and clinic alum Connor Flannery; Prof. James Grimmelmann on the ever-changing landscape of Internet-related First Amendment issues; and a panel of returning students Cam Misner, Sabrina Palacios and Matt Hornung on ways to get the most out of one’s clinic experience.

We are grateful to all our speakers for making this Bootcamp special, and we look forward to the semester ahead.

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Clinic Represents New York Newspaper in First Amendment Retaliation Suit

The Clinic filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in December 2023 against Delaware County on behalf of Catskills-based newspaper The Reporter. The suit claims that county officials violated the paper’s constitutional rights in de-designating it as an official paper and in issuing what has amounted to an illegal gag order for county employees. Read The Times Union coverage of the suit here and Cornell Law School’s coverage of the suit here.

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Clinic Secures Access to Dangerous Driving Records for News Outlet Streetsblog

After filing suit months ago against the NYC DOT on behalf of news outlet Streetsblog to seek access to basic information that is key to assessing the City’s pilot program aimed at curbing dangerous driving, the DOT produced documents to our client on Thanksgiving eve. Thanks to Clinic alumna Yifei Yang for her excellent work on this matter in preparing the Petition and accompanying brief.

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Fall 2023 First Amendment Clinic Bootcamp

What a great start-of-the-semester Bootcamp on Saturday, August 19, 2023, for our incoming students in the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic!

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Our students were treated to talks by the likes of Anne Galloway, Tim Cornell, Clinic Local Journalism Project Managing Attorney Heather Murray and recent alumnus Andrew Gelfand on the state of local news and their joint litigation work for pioneering non-profit news site VTDigger; returning Clinic students Patrick George, Cameron Misner, and Dominic Muscarella discussing with moderator, Clinic Fellow Christina Neitzey, how to excel in the Clinic environment; the incomparable Robbie Kaplan of Kaplan Hecker & Fink speaking to our students from the frontlines of the First Amendment; Professor Michael Dorf and Clinic Associate Director/Associate Clinical Professor Gautam Hans discussing the implications of the Supreme Court ruling in 303 Creative, and Co-chair of Greenberg Traurig’s National Media and Entertainment Litigation Group Michael Grygiel on the litigation twists and turns leading to very recent Federal Court decision dismissing the Nicholas Sandmann libel suit against Gannett and several other media organizations.

We are so grateful to all our clients, co-counsels, friends, Clinic alumni and returning students for taking the time and helping to make the day such a smashing success!

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Clinic Files Lawsuit Challenging Gag Order as Unconstitutional

NEWFANE, NY – On June 21, 2023, Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic filed a lawsuit in Niagara County Supreme Court on behalf of Tracy Murphy, animal rights activist and founder of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary in Newfane New York.  The suit, an Article 78 petition, challenges a gag order Newfane Town Court Justice Bruce Barnes imposed on Murphy restricting her First Amendment rights while she awaits trial on a misdemeanor larceny charge stemming from a dispute over the ownership of two cows.

The gag order imposes a blanket ban on Murphy’s use of any form of social media – which the order defines to “specifically include Facebook and public billboards, etc.” – while the criminal case against her is pending.  Murphy’s suit challenges the gag order on several grounds, including that the gag order is an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech in violation of the First Amendment, that the order is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that the order violates New York bail laws.

“The ability to interact with others on social media – whether that be through ‘liking’ posts, commenting, or perusing timelines – is critical to the exercise of First Amendment rights in the modern day,” said First Amendment Clinic Summer Fellow Eman Naga.  “By blocking Murphy’s ability to use social media and express her views publicly, the gag order effectively strips Murphy of her voice.  It also sets a dangerous precedent for other criminal defendants to be unlawfully silenced, too – regardless of whether they share Ms. Murphy’s views about animal rights.”

“Asha’s Farm Sanctuary is founded on spreading hope and love,” stated Murphy.  “The gag order is inhibiting my ability to do just that, as well as my ability to fundraise for the Sanctuary and advocate for myself and the animals I care so deeply about helping.”

“The Supreme Court has made very clear that blanket gag orders like the one Ms. Murphy challenges are unacceptable under the First Amendment,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow at the First Amendment Clinic and counsel for Murphy.  “Courts cannot pick and choose who gets to enjoy free speech rights based on factors like politics and personal lifestyle differences.  For the First Amendment to mean anything, we must all have these rights—vegans and ranchers alike.”

Murphy is represented in this suit by Neitzey, assisted by Clinic Summer Fellows Naga and Karem Lizbeth Herrera.  The matter is pending in Niagara County Supreme Court as Murphy v. Barnes, Index No. E180218/2023.

Murphy is represented in the parallel criminal matter by Chris Carraway with the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere, and Bonnie Klapper, former federal prosecutor and current member of the Direct Action Everywhere Legal Team.  Murphy’s criminal defense team previously challenged the same gag order before Justice Barnes, as well as an earlier version of the gag order Town of Somerset Justice Pamela Rider imposed at Murphy’s arraignment.

*          *          *

Contact: Christina Neitzey,, 607-255-4196

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Clinic Settles Appeal of Citizen Journalist’s Anti-SLAPP Win and Attorneys’ Fees Award in Geneva

Last month, Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Greenberg Traurig LLP finalized a settlement agreement which allows citizen journalist James Meaney of Geneva, New York, to stand by his investigative reporting on local construction company Massa Construction, Inc. This agreement resolves a lawsuit Massa brought against Meaney and his watchdog blog The Geneva Believer nearly three years ago.

The suit centered around a series of articles in which Meaney examined — and at times criticized — the City of Geneva’s public works bidding and record keeping procedures generally, and the relationship between Massa and the City specifically.

Massa appealed two 2021 Ontario County Supreme Court decisions which dismissed Massa’s suit and awarded attorneys’ fees to Meaney’s legal team to the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The matter settled after briefing was complete on the appeals, but prior to oral argument before the Fourth Department.

Neither Meaney nor The Geneva Believer made any payment to Massa as part of the settlement. Meaney and his legal team maintain that —as Supreme Court, Ontario County, found — Meaney’s coverage of Massa contained no false statements of fact, alleged or implied.  Remaining details of the agreement are confidential.

“Citizen journalists like Jim Meaney are exactly who anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow in the Cornell First Amendment Clinic.  “We are relieved that, through this settlement agreement, Jim can stand by his reporting and put this matter behind him.”

“I am deeply thankful that this case has reached a resolution,” said Meaney.  “If it weren’t for the countless hours of tireless, pro bono work by the Clinic’s exceptional team of students and attorneys, and by Greenberg Traurig, my case would have had a very different outcome. Citizen journalists like me who lack the resources to mount a free speech legal defense against deep-pocketed entities are extremely fortunate to have the Cornell First Amendment Clinic ready to help.”

Meaney was represented by Michael Grygiel of Greenberg Traurig LLP, along with the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic’s Stanton Fellow Christina Neitzey, Clinic Director Mark H. Jackson, former Clinic Associate Director Jared Carter, former Clinic Associate Director Cortelyou Kenney, and former teaching fellow Tyler Valeska.  Former First Amendment Clinic students Corby Burger, Michael Mapp, Rob Ward, Kasper Dworzanczyk, and James Pezzullo also contributed.

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Clinic Wins Dismissal of Libel Suit Against Rutgers University Professor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal judge yesterday dismissed in full a defamation and conspiracy lawsuit the Hindu American Foundation (“HAF”) brought last year against Rutgers University Associate Professor and human rights activist Audrey Truschke and four other activists.  The Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Davis Wright Tremaine LLP represented Dr. Truschke in this matter.

HAF’s claims against Dr. Truschke centered around several April 2021 Twitter posts in which she criticized HAF and Hindu nationalist ideology.  Among these tweets, Dr. Truschke reposted two articles from Al Jazeera Media Network’s concerning the awarding of federal COVID relief funds to organizations including HAF, which the articles characterized as “Hindu right-wing groups.”  HAF subsequently brought claims for defamation and civil conspiracy against Dr. Truschke and four other individuals quoted in the Al Jazeera articles.

In late 2021, Professor Truschke filed a motion to dismiss HAF’s suit, arguing that HAF fails to state a claim against Professor Truschke, and that Professor Truschke is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia.  The other defendants also filed motions to dismiss.

In a 28-page opinion issued Tuesday, Judge Amit Mehta agreed, granting all of the defendants’ motions and dismissing the case.  The court dismissed HAF’s suit against Professor Truschke on two independent grounds.  The court found that HAF could not show Professor Truschke is subject to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia, requiring dismissal.  The court also found that HAF failed to plead a libel or conspiracy claim against Truschke or any of her co-defendants – independently requiring dismissal of HAF’s suit.

“At its core, fighting this lawsuit was about protecting academic freedom, political debate, and critical inquiry,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow in the Cornell First Amendment Clinic.  “We are thrilled with this victory and hopeful that it dissuades HAF and others from seeking to use the courts to silence scholars and activists with whom they disagree in the future.”

Eric Feder, Counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine, stated, “We’re pleased that the court recognized that a lawsuit against a New Jersey college professor had no business being filed in a Washington, D.C. court, but, more importantly, that the case had no merit in the first place.  The court’s opinion reinforces the important principle that academic and political debates are a vital cornerstone of our democracy and should not form the basis of a defamation suit.”

“The Cornell First Amendment Clinic and Davis Wright Tremaine have provided amazing legal representation throughout this lengthy process, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly on this case,” stated Professor Truschke.  “While this process was inevitably stressful, a silver lining has been working with some rather promising law students at Cornell.  I’m grateful that I was able to secure pro bono counsel in this litigation as well as continue my research and publishing agendas throughout.  But I worry about others in my situation who could spend their life savings defending against similar meritless lawsuits and would be compelled to bow to anti-intellectual pressure to halt their research.  I hope that one outcome of this dismissal is dissuading further bad-faith litigation that seeks to infringe on academic freedom and civil society.”

Professor Truschke was represented by Feder and Neitzey, along with First Amendment Clinic Director Mark H. Jackson, former Clinic Adjunct Professor Jared Carter, and former teaching fellow Tyler Valeska.  Former Clinic students Kathryn Rider and Tim Birchfield, as well as former Clinic intern Taylor Kay, assisted in drafting the briefs in support of Professor Truschke’s motion to dismiss.

About the Cornell Law First Amendment Clinic: The Cornell Law First Amendment Clinic represents journalists and citizens on a pro bono basis to advance the interests of free expression. Law students collaborate with faculty to represent clients in legal research, negotiations, and litigation.

The case is Hindu American Foundation v. Sunita Viswanath, et al., Civil No. 21-cv-01268 (APM), in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Read the court’s full opinion here.


Christina Neitzey,, (910) 620-5282

Eric Feder,, (202) 973-4273

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Cornell First Amendment Clinic Secures Reinstatement of McCorkle and Maclean to Geneva Police Budget Advisory Board

GENEVA, N.Y. – The Geneva City Council reinstated James McCorkle and Robert Maclean to the City’s Police Budget Advisory Board Wednesday evening, December 7, 2022. Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic negotiated the reinstatement on behalf of McCorkle and Maclean after the two Board members were removed over the summer.

The City Council approved a resolution reinstating McCorkle and Maclean at its Wednesday meeting on the recommendation of Geneva’s City Attorney, Emil Bove. The resolution acknowledged that the removal of the two Board members came after statements they had made as private individuals regarding the City’s police department and expressing their personal political views.

The First Amendment Clinic became involved after the City Council removed McCorkle and Maclean on a 5 to 4 vote in July. The removal came after McCorkle sent an open letter to the City Council, which was published in The Finger Lakes Times and shared on social media, criticizing the Geneva Police Department and the City Council.  The Clinic alleged the removal violated McCorkle’s and Maclean’s rights to Free Speech and Due Process under the United States and New York State Constitutions.

The resolution temporarily expands the membership of the Police Budget Advisory Board to seven, to account for the two Board members appointed to replace McCorkle and Maclean earlier this year. McCorkle and Maclean will sit on the Board until December 31, 2023.

“This was a necessary and important outcome,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow in the First Amendment Clinic. “Public servants—whether they are paid or volunteer—must be free to speak as citizens on issues of public importance without fear of retaliation for criticizing their government or for their political views.”

“Our reinstatement wouldn’t have happened without the pro bono support of the First Amendment Law Clinic, James McCorkle’s courage in speaking out, and the persistence of a few City Councilors.  But for them, the City of Geneva would have gotten away with trampling on the right to free expression by retaliating against speech that is critical of the police.” said Robert Maclean.  “I’m thinking today about all of the people who don’t have the same resources with which to fight retaliation.  Dismissing us was meant to deter others from speaking out; I hope our case instead serves as a firm reminder to the Geneva City Council, the GPD, and law enforcement agencies across the country that critical scrutiny of the police is both protected by law and necessary for a functioning democracy.”

“Retaliation for speaking truth to power can never be tolerated or normalized; to critique, indeed, to call out egregious behavior by police is essential if there are to be civil and human rights, and certainly if we are ever to move beyond the carceral economy that has entrapped us.” said James McCorkle.

The First Amendment Clinic team was led by Clinic students Patrick George, James Pezzullo, and Yifei Yang, supervised by the Clinic’s Stanton Fellow Christina Neitzey and Associate Director and Associate Professor Gautam Hans.

Contact: Christina Neitzey,, (910) 620-5282