Coppola v. Lawson

No. CIV. 06-2139(SRC), 2006 WL 2129471 (D.N.J. July 26, 2006)

After the student newspaper at Ocean County Community College released several award-winning investigative pieces criticizing its school president and policies, reporters and editors felt the school was intimidating them to make them stop. The students complained that the administrators removed their adviser from her position unfairly, intimidated them by visiting their office during production, created a Student Media Advisory Board for oversight, canceled workshops the paper used to recruit new members and forced the paper to move from Macintosh on an independent network to PC computers on the school’s network.

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey agreed that the adviser was fired in retaliation for the critical coverage of the school. The court said it feared getting rid of the adviser would cause a chilling effect, where students would became scared to exercise their legal rights. The court denied the other four claims, stating they were speculative or did not present direct threats to the students’ First Amendment rights.