Pete Doughtie, publisher of The Rutherford Reader, talks with Bart Walker during an Aug. 1, 2013, interview at the studio of WGNS Radio in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Doughtie spoke with Walker about the lawsuit prior to the ruling. (Photo courtesy of WGNS Radio)
NASHVILLE -- A federal judge has denied an injunction request to force Rutherford County to include The Rutherford Reader on its list of newspapers that are authorized to publish public notices.
In a decision announced Monday, Judge Todd J. Campbell ruled Pete Doughtie, the publisher of The Reader, has little chance of winning a lawsuit over his right to publish public notices, as well as other legal announcements.
“The court finds that (Doughtie) has failed to show the need for this extraordinary relief,” Campbell said, adding that he believes “there is significant doubt” as to whether Doughtie will prevail in the lawsuit.
Noting Doughtie bears the burden of proving his constitutional rights have been violated, Campbell said it would be unfair to make Rutherford County officials deviate away from the status quo – a move that could cause unintended consequences in the future.
“If the court were to grant this preliminary injunction request … and then later dissolve the injunction and enter a judgment in favor of (Rutherford County), any such notices in (The Reader) could be defective, causing possible havoc within the state court systems,” he said.
Therefore, Campbell said, the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee should not intervene and issue an injunction against Rutherford County before the lawsuit even goes to trial in federal court.
The memorandum is a legal setback for Doughtie, who filed the lawsuit in March following several failed attempts to gain access to legal notices.
In addition to trying to be added to the approved publication list, Doughtie is also seeking an unspecified amount of damages from Rutherford County, which he contends should pay all of the court costs and attorney fees if he wins the case.
According to the lawsuit, Doughtie insists his constitutional rights of due process and equal protection under the law have been violated because Rutherford County public notices are published in The Murfreesboro Post and The Daily News Journal, while The Reader has been denied the chance to do so.
His claims come in response to the fact that the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office issued two separate opinions stating The Reader is not a newspaper of general circulation, only to announce in December 2009 it would no longer act as an authority on the matter.
Since then, Doughtie said he has been unable to obtain a third opinion that very well could be issued in his favor, according to the lawsuit.
“Doughtie, through The Reader, has made several attempts to become listed by the Rutherford County Probate Court and the 16th Judicial District Court as a publication eligible to run public notices,” said attorney Barry Tidwell, who is representing Doughtie in the case.
“The reason given for the denial has always been the attorney general opinions regarding its eligibility, which were written in 2007 and 2009,” Tidwell said in the lawsuit, “… but he has made efforts to comply with the attorney general opinions issued against it, even though Doughtie maintains these opinions were in error.”
In light of the situation, Tidwell is arguing Doughtie has been wronged because “there are no available state remedies” to address the situation.
In response to the allegations, Rutherford County attorneys have countered The Reader, which has been widely criticized for its controversial rhetoric concerning the Muslim community and construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, is not a legitimate newspaper.
Some critics have described The Reader as a form of "hate speech" and successfully pressured businesses to remove it from local stores, all while Doughtie has continued to express strong support for Murfreesboro mosque opponents who are in the midst of their own battle against Rutherford County over public notice issues.
“(Doughtie) appears to rely on his assertion that he believes (The Reader) satisfies certain criteria to be considered a newspaper of general circulation under Tennessee law,” said attorney Jim Cope, one of the attorneys who represents Rutherford County.
“However, there are two Tennessee attorney general opinions, which clearly state The Reader is not a newspaper of general circulation and is not qualified to publish legal notices,” Cope said in court documents filed in June.
Throughout much of the scathing response that calls for dismissing the case altogether, Cope points out the attorney general has never issued an opinion stating The Post and DNJ are ineligible to publish legal notices – a fact that distinguishes both newspapers from The Reader.
“Therefore,” Cope said, “a rational basis exists for treating The Reader differently.”