Citizen critic of Reno government wins day in court

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal appeals court says Denis "Sam" Dehne, a Reno municipal government gadfly, can sue Reno and the Washoe County Airport Authority on allegations he was wrongly kicked out of public hearings.

Dehne has attended every Reno City Council meeting and most other local Reno government meetings since 1995. The 62-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran usually takes the podium at each of those meetings. He was kicked out of two public meetings and sued, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated.

A federal judge had dismissed the cases, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated them, ruling Thursday that it's up to a jury to decide whether Dehne was wronged.

"I want this to go to a jury. This is what the First Amendment is all about," Dehne said. "I am the watchdog of Reno, multiplied by 50."

Creighton Skau, deputy Reno city attorney, said city officials acted properly.

"Our next step would be to defend this case on the merits, presumably at trial," he said.

The legal dispute focuses on municipal government's right to keep order at public hearings balanced against the public's right to comment at those meetings.

Dehne claims his First Amendment rights were violated when he was removed from Washoe County Airport Authority hearing in 2000 after a verbal scuffle with the body's chairman, and a year before by the mayor during a stormy Reno City Council meeting. He is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

During oral arguments on the cases before the San Francisco-based appeals court last month, lawyers for the municipal governments labeled Dehne a nuisance and said he deserved to be kicked out of the meetings in order to preserve order.

Among other things, Dehne's attorney argued that he was removed because authorities didn't like what he was saying, including his accusations that then-Mayor Jeff Griffin was allegedly violating state ethics rules.

The cases are Dehne v. Griffin, 03-15175 and Dehne v. Hill, 02-15886.


Editors: David Kravets has been covering state and federal courts for a decade.


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