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Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee v. Coakley

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 17, 2014

JOBS FIRST INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE and MELISSA LUCAS, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARTHA COAKLEY, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and BRIAN MANNAL, Defendants

Page 254

For Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee, Melissa Lucas, Plaintiffs: Peter C. Horstmann, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Peter Charles Horstmann, Newton, MA.

For Martha J. Coakley, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Defendant: Amy Spector, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA.

For Brian Mannal, Defendant: Brian R. Mannal, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Law Office of Brian Mannal, Hyannis, MA.

Page 255

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge.

This case involves a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts statute that criminalizes false statements made in relation to any candidate running for public office. The suit is brought by Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee (" Jobs First" ) and the Treasurer of Jobs First, Melissa Lucas (" Lucas" ) (collectively, " plaintiffs" ) against Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (" Coakley" ) and Brian Mannal (" Mannal" ), who was, at all pertinent times, a candidate for public office (collectively, " defendants" ).

Pending before the Court is plaintiffs' emergency motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to enjoin the Clerk Magistrate of the Falmouth District Court from holding a hearing on December 18, 2014 related to an application for a criminal complaint brought by Mannal against Lucas for making false statements about him prior to the election in November, 2014. Mannal has also filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint based on Younger abstention principles.

For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny both pending motions.

I. Background

A. M.G.L. c. 56, § 42

In 1946, M.G.L. c. 56, § 42 was enacted by the Massachusetts legislature and became law. It provides, in relevant part:

No person shall make or publish, or cause to be made or published, any false statement in relation to any candidate for nomination or election to public office, which is designed or tends to aid or to injure or defeat such candidate.

The statute also (1) prohibits false statements made in relation to ballot questions set to be submitted to voters and (2) provides that anyone found to have " knowingly" violated any provision of § 42 shall be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than six months. M.G.L. c. 56, § 42.

B. Factual Background

Defendant Mannal is the incumbent representative for the 2nd Barnstable District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Mannal is also a practicing criminal defense attorney who receives appointments to represent clients in Massachusetts trial courts.

In the lead up to the November, 2014 election, Jobs First created and published several brochures and press releases strongly criticizing Mannal's legislative record. In particular, Jobs First circulated

Page 256

multiple brochures criticizing Mannal's apparent support for legislation concerning sex offenders. In one brochure, voters are encouraged to " [v]ote against Brian Mannal" after it accuses him of

putting criminals and his own interest above our families [and wanting] to use our tax dollars to pay defense lawyers like himself to help convicted sex offenders.

Another brochure accuses Mannal of

introduc[ing] legislation that weakens penalties against convicted sex offenders and uses taxpayer dollars to help them purge their names from sexual offender databases.

That same brochure concludes by asking " Why does Brian Mannal want to put our families at risk?" , and each brochure includes a small disclaimer that reads " [p]aid for by Jobs First Independent Expenditure PAC, Melissa Lucas, Treasurer." Jobs First contends, however, that Lucas had nothing to do with the creation of these published materials.

On October 21, 2014, Mannal filed an application for a criminal complaint with the Barnstable District Court. Mannal's application alleges that Lucas published or caused the publication of false statements by Jobs First in relation to his candidacy for re-election. The application also alleges that the two statements were " designed to injure or defeat" Mannal and therefore violated M.G.L c. 56, § 42. It further contends that " the mailer[s] inferred in no uncertain terms that [] Mannal sought to benefit financially from legislation that he had filed." Mannal asserts that he never handled a sex offender case and is not certified to do so.

A probable cause hearing on Mannal's application for a criminal complaint was scheduled for November 20, 2014 before a Clerk Magistrate. On October 27, 2014, plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss the application, contending that the statute was facially unconstitutional. On October 30, 2014, the Barnstable District Court transferred the application to the Falmouth District Court. At Lucas's request, the probable cause hearing was postponed until December 18, 2014.

Mannal narrowly won re-election to his seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on November 4, 2014.

C. Procedural History

On December 5, 2014, plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief and alleging that M.G.L. c. 56, § 42 is facially unconstitutional (Count I), constitutes viewpoint discrimination (Count II) and is unconstitutionally vague (Count III). The complaint also alleges that the procedures of the state district courts result in a violation of substantive and procedural due process (Count IV) and raises an abuse of process claim against Mannal (Count V). On the same day, plaintiffs filed the instant motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the Clerk Magistrate of the Falmouth District Court who, incidentally, is not a party to these proceedings.

On December 12, 2014, the Court invited the parties to file supplemental briefing on the implications of the Younger abstention doctrine on plaintiffs' motion. On December 15, 2014, defendant Mannal ...


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