Alex Stein has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against Dallas County, Clay Jenkins, and John Wiley Price for unlawfully removing him from a public meeting.
In mid-May, The Dallas Express reported on the forcible removal of Stein, a local media personality who regularly pushes the envelope of free speech in public forums, from a Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting.
At the regularly scheduled commissioners court meeting, Stein used his allotted time on the microphone to press Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on several claims made against the judge in a 2014 D Magazine article regarding his time at Baylor University.
However, Commissioner John Wiley Price, who himself was indicted and tried by federal prosecutors for bribery and other related charges before being found not guilty, interceded before Jenkins could answer. After a brief exchange between Stein and Price, Stein was removed from the commissioners court meeting at Price’s direction.
Following this altercation, serious questions have arisen about whether Stein was legally removed from this meeting under Price’s authority, precipitating Stein’s lawsuit.
Under federal law, district courts have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, including suppression of free speech by an elected body.
While Stein is afforded protections for his speech before the commissioners court under the Texas Open Meetings Act as well as the state and federal Constitutions, the rules of the Dallas Commissioners Court state that “[a]ny person making personal, impertinent, profane, or slanderous remarks or who becomes boisterous while addressing and/or attending the commissioners court meeting shall be removed from the commissioners’ courtroom if security is so directed by the presiding officer.”
In a video posted to Alex Stein’s Youtube channel, Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch stated, “Commissioner Price, I believe, unlawfully had Alex Stein removed.”
Citing the rules that allow for removal if an individual makes “personal, impertinent, profane, or slanderous remarks or who becomes boisterous,” Koch went on to say, “Alex Stein had just started reading this article, was not raising his voice at that time … there was nothing profane.”
Furthermore, regarding the potentially slanderous nature of the claims Stein was inquiring about, Koch countered, “D Magazine would’ve been sued by Judge Jenkins if there were untruths in there.”
Central to the question of whether Stein was removed lawfully is the term “presiding officer” in the commissioners court rules cited above. County Judge Clay Jenkins presides over the commissioners court, not Commissioner Price.
Koch remarked on this issue, stating, “Here is the big problem, right? Commissioner Price directed the marshals to take Stein out. That’s not the legal process. Under the statute, if one of the other members of the court wants that to happen, they have to hold a vote.”
As presiding officer, Judge Jenkins “could’ve been the one to say, ‘Hey, you get out of here,’ right?” Koch asked rhetorically. Then the commissioner continued, “If Commissioner Price wanted the speaker to stop and be sent out, he had to hold a vote. So, I was a little bit stunned.”
Koch went on to say, “It was done unlawfully. It was absolutely done unlawfully, and we’re probably going to face the repercussions of it. … We violated his [Stein’s] First Amendment rights; this is going to be a big problem.”
Lauren Davis, who will face off with Jenkins in the November election for County Judge, commented on the situation, stating, “This is just another one of the many examples of Clay Jenkins’ lack of leadership and respect for our constitutional rights. As a public servant, we serve all people whether they like us or not. Free speech is a bedrock of a free society.” She then asserted: “Dallas County deserves a true servant leader who puts the people before their feelings.”
Neither Jenkins nor Price responded to our request for comment at the time of press.
The Dallas Express will continue to follow Stein’s lawsuit and report as more details become available.