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Farella’s Matthew Cate Helps Defend Stockton Students’ Free Speech Rights

May 8, 2019 Press Release

SAN FRANCISCO, May 8, 2019: With help from Farella Braun + Martel Senior Associate Matthew Cate, a student newspaper reporter and her faculty adviser successfully beat back demands from the Lodi Unified School District to turn over a controversial article for prior review before publication.

The article profiled an 18-year-old student at Bear Creek High School, in Stockton, California, who works in the adult entertainment industry. The district demanded that the reporter and adviser submit the article for the district’s review, alleging without basis that the article might contain obscenity, defamatory statements, or other potentially unlawful material. The district also threatened to fire the adviser if she refused to comply.

In light of the district’s demand, the adviser contacted the Student Press Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on protecting the rights of both student journalists and their advisers. The SPLC put the adviser in contact with Cate, who is a member of its pro bono attorney referral network and agreed to represent the student reporter and faculty adviser in connection with the district’s demands.

Cate informed the LUSD that the article lacked any of the material the district had alleged, meaning it was therefore protected under California Education Code section 48907. This state law guarantees students’ right to free speech and, except in limited circumstances, prohibits schools from censoring student expression. Cate concluded the district could not lawfully prohibit publication of the article. He further warned that the district’s demand for prior review, as well as its threat to fire the adviser, threatened to chill the First Amendment rights of all students at Bear Creek High School.

In response, the district backed down and agreed not to further interfere with the publication of the story. The article appeared in The Bruin Voice on May 3.

Related media coverage:

San Francisco Chronicle

The New York Times

Sacramento Bee

Farella Braun + Martel is a leading Northern California law firm representing corporate and private clients in sophisticated business transactions and complex commercial, civil and criminal litigation. Clients seek our imaginative legal solutions and the dynamism and intellectual creativity of our lawyers. We are headquartered in San Francisco and maintain offices in the Napa Valley that are focused on the wine industry.

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