Plaintiff settles for $25,000 in Torrington First Amendment lawsuit

2012-08-13T23:30:00Z 2012-08-13T23:54:23Z Plaintiff settles for $25,000 in Torrington First Amendment lawsuitBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
August 13, 2012 11:30 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — The city of Torrington agreed to pay former state Sen. Russell Zimmer $25,000 to settle his First Amendment lawsuit against two city officials for banning him from city buildings in June.

The officials prohibited Zimmer, 86, from entering city buildings until after the city budget was adopted July 1.

The ban was lifted after Zimmer’s lawsuit was filed in federal court. It named as defendants the city of Torrington, Mayor Michael E. Varney and Police Chief Bill Janes.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Zimmer said Monday. “It didn’t go exactly the way I thought it would, but it proved a point.”

The part he didn’t like about the settlement was the lack of any admission of guilt by the defendants.

“They’re to pay me $25,000,” he said. “They admit nothing.”

Proof of conduct

Zimmer pointed out, though, that the payment of the settlement was proof that the officials’ conduct against him was unconstitutional.

“I felt good for trying to stand up for the Constitution,” he said.

The Wyoming attorney general’s office, which represented the defendants, didn’t want to go to court, according to Zimmer.

State Attorney General Greg Phillips said his office represented Police Chief Janes in his official capacity, but he otherwise declined to comment on the settlement Monday.

Richard Rideout, a Cheyenne attorney, represented the city of Torrington and Varney. Rideout and Varney couldn’t be reached Monday.

According to Zimmer’s complaint, he attended a city council public budget session on April 26.

He had been attending the budget hearing because of concerns about electrical rates, according to published reports.

Looking for comments

Zimmer spoke briefly during the meeting and afterward approached Varney to comment further on budget matters and to ask questions.

Zimmer, who suffers from a hearing problem, moved closer to the mayor to hear him better. Doug Weeks, the sergeant-at-arms, “apparently considered Zimmer’s actions to be aggressive and hostile” and asked him to leave the meeting, the lawsuit said.

On May 1, Janes personally delivered a letter to Zimmer informing him that he was barred from Torrington city government buildings and meetings until July 1 — the deadline for the city to approve its 2013 budget.

The letter said Zimmer’s conduct was harassing and he would be charged with criminal trespassing if he violated the ban.

“I never did anything, really. I raised my voice a little bit.

“I did that,” Zimmer said Monday.

He said his conduct didn’t justify throwing out a good citizen from a public building.

Zimmer served about 20 years in the Wyoming Legislature and was Senate president in 1989 and 1990.

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