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Dem. activist threatens to sue Ally Miller over social media blocking

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller has "spitefully and defiantly" violated the free speech of a local Democrat by deleting his comments and blocking him from her office's government-sponsored Facebook page — a constitutional violation according to a notice of claim filed Wednesday on behalf of Brandon Patrick.

Patrick, an Air Force veteran and former legislative candidate, said that he made comments on Miller's page — an official account associated with her supervisor's office — but that they were deleted, and that he has been blocked from making further comments.

The "Supervisor Ally Miller" page is a public forum, Patrick maintained in his claim, where "government official cannot arbitrarily censor messages and ban speakers simply because they express disagreement with the official's policies. Banning speakers is also a form of prior restraint – preventing them from even speaking based on the content of their speech – and is the most egregious form of censorship."

"After all Board of Supervisor members were expressly informed that deleting social media comments and blocking followers violates Arizona public record laws and could violate constitutional rights, (Miller) was verbally and publicly defiant, mocked the warning that cautioned against such behavior, and then acted in accordance with her expressed derision by spitefully and defiantly censoring and deleting free speech and blocking any future free speech from Mr. Patrick," attorney Vince Rabago wrote in the 90-page claim sent to county officials.

The papers ask that Miller be required to unblock Patrick and allow him to comment, and to unblock and afford First Amendment rights to any others who have been censored on Miller's government Facebook page.

Miller would be within her rights to block and delete on her personal social media accounts, or on accounts connected with her campaign, but elected officials are constrained in their ability to censor speech on government pages.

Rabago, one of the Democrats' go-to lawyers for politically connected cases, said Patrick would settle his claim for $75,000, but that a court case could result in "a substantial punitive damages award that is significantly higher."

Patrick, who's frequently involved in Democratic political campaigns, declined to comment on his claim.

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After the claim was filed, TucsonSentinel.com asked county officials to provide a list of everyone who has been blocked from Miller's government page, and a log of each comment that has been deleted. The county's social media policy requires that any removed comments be archived as public records.

Miller has previously acknowledged that the Facebook page is run out of her office, and responded to public records requests relating to it (although those records were improperly redacted). She also maintains a personal Facebook profile and a page for his political campaign.

We've asked Miller to respond to questions regarding the notice, and will update as soon as we receive an answer. Miller has cloistered herself from the press, ignoring emails and barring reporters from attending her campaign events.

The first-term Republican faces Democrat Brian Bickel as she seeks reelection from District 1.

Miller, whom former staffers have described as "paranoid" and warned staffers to whisper because of "listening devices in the walls" of her county office, has other troubles with social media.

Numerous former staffers have reported that Miller conducts much of her official communication via her personal email and private social media messages. Yet Miller has denied doing so, and not only refused to hand over public records generated by her use of private accounts, but has claimed those records do not exist.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office is investigating Miller's refusal to hand over public records, which came as news outlets, including TucsonSentinel.com, checked out a bizarre sham news website set up by her then-communications aide.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Miller at a June meeting of the Board of Supervisors.