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ACLU blasts review of Facebook page on RI lawmaker

- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU is blasting Attorney General Peter Kilmartin for his review of a state senator's Facebook lampooning of a fellow lawmaker, saying any suggestion of a criminal probe casts a pall over the exercise of First Amendment rights.

"While it may be discourteous and even offensive, the Facebook page is not by any stretch of the imagination a criminal enterprise. Satirizing public officials, however coarsely, constitutes a well-worn application of free speech rights," ACLU executive director Steven Brown wrote to Kilmartin in a letter dated Thursday.

Amy Kempe, a Kilmartin spokeswoman, on Friday said the office had received the letter.

"The ACLU does not dictate how this office proceeds with cases," she said.

The Facebook page skewered Democratic Rep. Scott Guthrie of Coventry, who went to police in December to complain it constituted cyber harassment. The page was called "Scott Guthrie State Representative" and had a profile picture featuring a heart and a mustache - an apparent reference to Guthrie's distinctive facial hair. Among the posts were comments suggesting Guthrie was a "political hack" who was out to "feed his union buddies."

Coventry Police subpoenaed Facebook and an online services provider and determined the page was being run by Republican Sen. Nicholas Kettle, who also represents Coventry.

Kempe told The Providence Journal earlier this week that an assistant attorney general found there was not enough evidence to prosecute, but she also called the determination an "initial assessment" and said the Democratic attorney general intends to review the case.

The ACLU said keeping the case open for review as a possible criminal prosecution sends a troubling message, and the case should be formally closed.

"If the broadsides on this Facebook page constitute unlawful "harassment," then The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and dozens of other political web sites engage in criminal activity every day," Brown wrote.

The page was taken down on Wednesday. Kettle has refused to apologize for it.

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