City claims Free Press ad is littering, paper fires back

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The Detroit Free Press is claiming freedom of the press protects them during a bitter and costly dispute with Orion Township.

The city says the free newspapers that lands on non-customer's driveways is litter - but the paper claims the delivery is protected by the First Amendment. The argument is now going to federal court.

The ad is called Select and is delivered free of charge to residents and it typically has stuff many may not even read. But it does allow you to opt out - if it worked.

"They have an opt out provision in here that if you don't want to receive it, call the 1-800-Number, so I personally did that and I heard from residents they were doing the same thing, so that didn't work," Township Supervisor Chris Barnett said.

That led to the Township issuing two tickets to the paper for $800 each for littering.

The newspaper fired back by filing a class action lawsuit against several Township employees including Barnett.

"From a common sense stand point, it is ludacris what they're doing," Barnett said.

The lawsuit is asking for $5 million in punitive damages out of fear that the Free Press would be ticketed for delivering copies to all 2500 residents in the township.

"The last thing I want to do is spend time and money in taxpayer resources on fighting the free press. They're the ones who sued us. We wrote two littering tickets that will be resolved in district court," Barnett said.

Free Press attorney Herschel Fink says the First Amendment protects the paper.

"The fact of the matter is, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution - spells Michigan Constitution - protects us in that regard. We don't need consent, but we like to have consent," Fink said.

Fink said the 1-800 number system isn't perfect but the Free Press tries to ensure people who don't want it, don't get it.

Barnett says he has gotten a lot of complaints about the publication which turned into litter on the sidewalk. One email said "I have an idea why don't we collect them all and take them to the Free Press and drop them on their front lawn."

"It became a common theme every Monday, I would run into people and they would complain about this free issue of the paper," Barnett said.

Fink says the paper's actions are mainly to get their attention because the First Amendment means something, and it should. The Township supervisor tells me no more tickets will be issued until this matter has been resolved in court.