The First Amendment Clinic at the University of Georgia has sent a letter expressing concerns over the Grantville City Council’s decision to press charges against a resident.
At its March 28 meeting, the council voted to press charges against Grantville resident Robert Royce for using information from numerous Open Records Act Requests to allegedly intimidate first responders.
According to its website, the FAC defends and advances the freedoms given by the First Amendment through direct client representation.
The letter was sent to Mark Mitchell, Grantville's city attorney, the city council, Mayor Doug Jewell and District Attorney Herb Cranford.
The council claims Royce is in violation of House Bill 838, which states someone can be charged with "the offense of bias-motivated intimidation when such a person maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate, harass or terrorize another person because of that person's actual or perceived employment as a first responder."
Royce regularly publishes information from his ORA requests to his website, www.grantvillecorruption.com , to criticize city staff, volunteers and council members.
The letter states that the council's decision to press charges against Royce goes against Georgia public policy.
"This vote, as well as any resulting request or decision to criminally prosecute Mr. Royce, amounts to retaliation against him for engaging in protected activity and is deeply chilling to both Mr. Royce and other members of the Grantville community," states the letter.
In a previous Newnan Times-Herald article, Grantville City Manager Al Grieshaber said Royce made more than 100 open records requests since August 2021, which has placed an inordinate burden on the city clerk.
The letter cites a legal case in New Jersey, Township of Teaneck v. Jones, which is similar to Grantville's issues with Royce.
"Teaneck found a resident’s open records requests to be unreasonable, excessive, abusive, retaliatory and specifically designed to coerce a financial settlement with public funds of a separate litigation commenced by the resident," the letter states.
The resident in the Teaneck case made 380 open records requests within two months.
According to the letter, the court found the resident did not threaten public officials or cause a breach of the peace, so the township's request to be relieved of the open records requests was denied.
Grantville's situation is similar, stated the attorneys at the FAC.
"He also has not threatened any official with physical harm or caused a breach of the peace. Thus, like in Teaneck, the city of Grantville has no defensible basis for objecting to Mr. Royce's lawful open records requests, let alone for seeking to criminally prosecute him for making them," the letter states.
The letter ends with the FAC requesting Cranford to reject the council's "unlawful" request to press charges against Royce.
"The Grantville City Council's vote to request criminal prosecution of Mr. Royce offends the letter and the spirit of the ORA, undermines the public policy goals embodied in Georgia's anti-SLAPP legislation, violates Mr. Royce's first amendment right to gain access to and express critique of his local government, and chills other residents form doing the same," states the letter.
According to Grieshaber, the FAC misunderstood the council's vote.
"They got it wrong. It is not for open records requests, but for bias-motivated intimidation of police officers," he said.
Grieshaber said the council voted to have the city attorney confer with the district attorney regarding Royce's alleged intimidation of police officers.
"We did not ask the city attorney to consult the district attorney regarding Mr. Royce's open records requests, which we understand he has a First Amendment right to file," Grieshaber said.
The city manager said the letter has not affected the city's decision to press charges against Royce.