First Amendment is for all of us

The SE Texas Record Apr. 29, 2007, 7:00am

Plaintiff's lawyer Brent Coon says the Washington Post is "fair" and should be allowed to report on his cases at the Jefferson County courthouse.

But we're not, and we shouldn't. Coon says the government should keep the Southeast Texas Record -- and its dangerous stories and ideas -- away from the people of Jefferson County.

That's lest they "contaminate" your "opinion." About Mr. Coon, we suppose, as well as his clients, associates and other members of the plaintiff's bar he likes.

And lawyers wonder who's giving been them such a bad name?

Coon actually made these arguments in a Beaumont courtroom this week, alternately giving onlookers and District Judge Donald Floyd a lesson on journalistic ethics, what the First Amendment really says, the evils of big business and the infallibility of his own work as a plaintiff's lawyer.

Coon didn't, however, present any actual evidence -- evidence he had repeatedly promised -- supporting the dramatic accusations he had made against two Record staffers.

That was the whole reason for the hearing -- to see the beef behind Coon's charge that our Marilyn Tennissen and David Yates were "jury tampering" on April 2, handing out newspapers at the courthouse. Coon went so far as to demand they be muzzled, interrogated by a judicial tribunal and, of course, questioned by Coon himself. There were witnesses, he said, and he would produce them.

That part -- supporting the reckless, unsubstantiated charges he made against two innocent people -- earned but a bit part.

The main event was Mr. Coon himself. Granted our captive attention by the court, he took occasion to celebrate his own First Amendment privilege with an hour-long diatribe against this newspaper and its owner, Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Among other doozies, Coon accused our staff of being associated with the administration of late U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.

Maybe he figures the people of Jefferson County voted for George McGovern?

All name calling aside, we all enjoy freedom to ramble on when we feel like it in this country. We don't need a permission slip from the state or anyone else to speak our minds.

But we don't have the right to compel what others should say, or to force them to listen.

Brent Coon believes free speech is reserved for him. He thinks he can use his law degree to punish journalists when they refuse to celebrate him. He's mistaken.

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