Mendocino County lawsuit over signature gathering settled

Mendocino County officials and a retired Ukiah attorney Friday settled a lawsuit alleging free speech infringement by a deputy.

The settlement agreement includes a requirement that the Sheriff's Office develop and provide First Amendment rights training to deputies.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in which a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy, at the request of a Raley's supermarket manager, ordered a person gathering signatures outside the store to leave.

The incident prevented attorney Dennis O'Brien from signing a ballot petition in violation of his free speech rights, he contended in the lawsuit. He said the petitioner was standing 15 feet from the Raley's entrance and was not interfering with customers entering and leaving the store.

O'Brien noted that shopping centers and malls are considered appropriate public forums for purposes of free speech. However, limits can be placed on those activities.

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