MFIA Clinic Sues Jersey City, Accusing Officials of Stonewalling Local News Site

A group of microphones on a table with a crowd in the background.
A press conference. The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic represents a news site suing local officials for blocking it from press communications.

The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) is suing the city of Jersey City, its mayor, and the mayor’s press secretary on behalf of a local news site and editor who say they were dropped from the city’s press list for publishing a story critical of the mayor. In a lawsuit the clinic and local counsel Weissman & Mintz LLC filed together Monday, the Jersey City Times and founder and editor-in-chief Aaron Morrill are suing for retaliation and viewpoint and content-based discrimination. The lawsuit seeks to restore access to official city communications for Morrill and the Jersey City Times so that they can continue reporting on matters of public interest.

On May 20, 2021, the Jersey City Times published an article by Morrill that disputed claims by Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop that violent crime and homicides had fallen to historic lows during his tenure. Analyzing FBI data, Morrill explained in the news story that crime had in fact increased since Fulop’s election and that “there had been virtually no progress” in homicide reduction.

In retaliation, according to the suit, the city removed the Jersey City Times from the city’s press list without notice or explanation. Over the next two years, Morrill and the publication were excluded from numerous press releases, media advisories and invitations to press conferences that the city sent to more than 200 other news organizations. This exclusion significantly harmed the site’s ability to access and gather information and to inform their readers of breaking news, according to the publication.

The right to question and criticize public officials is essential to a healthy democracy, as is a robust, free, and independent press.”

—Clinical Lecturer in Law Jennifer Borg

In April 2022, the clinic sent a letter to attorneys for the city complaining about the city’s conduct. In response, the city said it had reinstated the Jersey City Times to the press list. However, the site continued to be excluded. The Jersey City Times was not invited to press conferences and other official events but its competitors were. In addition, according to the suit, the site received sporadic notice of events only after they occurred. In July 2023, Morrill and the publication's attorneys wrote to the city again to object to removal from the press list. The attorneys wrote that the city was violating their clients’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as their due process rights. In addition, they wrote, the city was engaging in unlawful First Amendment retaliation and discrimination. 

Despite being notified that their conduct was unlawful, the mayor, the press secretary, and the city continue to violate the Jersey City Times and Morrill’s constitutional rights, according to the suit. They are now being sued on six counts. 

According to the complaint, the city’s blacklisting of Morrill and the Jersey City Times constitutes unlawful retaliation in violation of their First Amendment rights. The complaint also alleges that the defendants have engaged in unlawful content-based and viewpoint discrimination under both the First Amendment and New Jersey’s constitution. Two of the counts address the fact that the city has treated Morrill and the Jersey City Times differently than other news organizations, violating their right to equal protection and equal treatment under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Since the city has no published criteria for adding or removing organizations from the press list, and it offered no opportunities to appeal the Jersey City Times’ removal, the complaint also alleges that the removal violates the right to due process.

“The right to question and criticize public officials is essential to a healthy democracy, as is a robust, free, and independent press,” said Jennifer Borg, Clinical Lecturer in Law and a supervising attorney at the clinic. “This lawsuit continues MFIA’s mission to defend the work of local newsgatherers and protect the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.”

Yale Law School students Amara Banks ’25, Victoria Maras ’25, Rachel Troy ’25, Aren Torikian ’24, Alice Logenbach ’23, and Daniel Betancourt ’22 made significant contributions to the case. Morrill and the Jersey City Times are represented by the MFIA clinic’s Floyd Abrams Fellow Jennifer Borg and Craig Newmark Fellow Tobin Raju, and local counsel Steven Weissman, Flavio Komuves, and Brett Pugach of Weissman & Mintz LLC.

The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School is a law student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression by providing pro bono legal services, pursuing impact litigation and developing policy initiatives.