Frank Lunding, a political operative for Larry Agran—Irvine’s legendary, scandal-scarred political boss—is suing the City of Irvine because his publication that began as a brazen campaign tool for Agran’s re-elections isn’t being distributed in city offices along with traditional local newspapers.
In a lawsuit filed this week inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Lunding is demanding taxpayers pay him damages because he claims city officials are violating his free speech rights by labeling his Irvine Community News & Views (ICNV) a “political related publication” and banning it from news racks inside city hall.
“Although the city permits the OC Weekly, the Irvine World News and many other publications to be distributed from the news racks, the city has barred ICNV from the news racks based upon discriminatory animus against the viewpoint and the content of ICNV,” the 14-page lawsuit states. “ICNV frequently publishes news articles regarding improprieties by the city, city council members and other city officials as well as critical editorials and letters to the editor.”
The publication began as a partisan political slate mailer. Lobbyists and corporate executives hoping to keep Agran and his then-council majority in power beginning for the 2008 election spent more than $100,000 to create the impression with voters that the paper was an independent news outlet and not an elaborate campaign flier. Those Agran allies were eager to keep winning lucrative public contracts worth tens of millions of dollars annually—especially at the Great Park project.
After Republican candidates took control of the city council with Agran’s historic 2014 defeat, the ICNV “terminated its slate mailer status” and became a real “community newspaper” printing 21,000 copies monthly in hopes of countering coverage by more traditional news publications, according to Fredrick D. Woocher, the Los Angeles-based lawyer who has represented Democratic candidates for decades and filed the lawsuit for Lunding,
Woocher argues that the city’s “discriminatory” acton violates his client’s “equal protection” rights under the U.S. Constitution and he wants a court order permitting the publication’s city hall distribution as well as “reasonable” financial damages to be determined later.
City officials have not yet filed a formal response.
Agran and his political allies are expected to try to take back control over the city and its coffers in this year’s election.
U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford will preside over the case.