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Nebraska town agrees to $16,000 settlement with resident behind 'burdensome' letters to city officials
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Nebraska town agrees to $16,000 settlement with resident behind 'burdensome' letters to city officials

From the What you missed this week in notable Southeast Nebraska crimes and court cases series
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An Ord man has agreed to a $16,000 settlement with the central Nebraska town that filed a lawsuit against him last year in an attempt to get him to stop writing letters and emails to city officials and the police department that they called "burdensome."

After the city lost the suit, Guy Brock sued Ord for his attorney fees and punitive damages.

At a hearing in December, Brock and a representative for the town's insurance carrier, Oak Creek Insurance, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart they had reached the $16,000 amount to release Brock's claims and the city's defenses and to dismiss the case.

Guy Brock

Guy Brock

The town did not admit liability. And the city attorney didn't return a request for comment.

The settlement followed an order in September, where U.S. District Judge John Gerrard denied a motion by the city, Mayor Dan Petska and City Attorney Heather Sikyta to dismiss Brock's claims that they had violated his First Amendment rights.

At the same time, Gerrard said just because he permitted the case to go forward didn't mean it ought to.

"All of the people involved with this lawsuit should regret being here," he wrote in the order. "To begin with, nearly every public official draws the attention of critics and cranks who have opinions they insist on sharing."

He said he, too, has no shortage of his own "pen pals."

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"But rather than accept that as one of the privileges of public service, the defendants decided to pursue a lawsuit that asked a state court to impose a prior restraint on the plaintiff's speech," Gerrard said.

Brock won. But, rather than being content with having his First Amendment rights vindicated, he filed another lawsuit, the judge said. 

"This court's docket is full of cases genuinely implicating lives, livelihoods and liberty — but instead of addressing those claims, the court finds its attention diverted by having to referee this squabble. It is tempting to turn this car around and go straight home. But, of course, as long as the parties intend to keep it up, the court is duty-bound to preside," Gerrard wrote then. 

He went on to dismiss Brock's claims alleging that the city's actions constituted malicious prosecution.

But he said Petska and Sikyta weren't entitled to qualified immunity at that stage of the proceedings on the First Amendment retaliation claims, as their attorneys had argued. 

"Taking Brock's allegations as true — that he was writing letters to his elected officials about city activities, and that Petska and Sikyta decided to assert the lawsuit because of that speech — every reasonable official would have known that Brock's speech was protected from intrusion by the First Amendment," Gerrard wrote. 

In the lawsuit, Brock's attorney, J.L. Spray, said during the last decade Brock has had a practice of writing letters to the city of Ord and its elected representatives related to city government. 

On March 4, 2020, the city filed a lawsuit against him in Valley County District Court seeking a restraining order or an injunction to stop him from "sending communication of any kind to the City of Ord and the Ord Police Department unless directly related to a city service or other city function related specifically to the defendant and his property," Sikyta wrote in the complaint. 

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She said Brock's letters and emails had "increasingly become harassing and burdensome" to the city and the police department. 

In them, he alleged wrongful conduct by city officials, employees and police officers that she said either were unfounded or had already been handled internally.

On Oct. 21, 2019, Ord Police Chief Jay Welch sent a letter to Brock telling him his constant harassment must stop. But Brock kept writing. 

Sikyta said unless the judge stopped Brock, he would cause "great and irreparable" damage to the reputation of elected officials, city employees and their family members.

On May 12, 2020, Valley County District Karin L. Noakes granted Brock's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

A year later, Brock filed his federal lawsuit alleging the city had retaliated against him for exercising free speech and petitioning his elected and appointed representatives.  

Ord is a town of 2,300 people about 60 miles northwest of Grand Island. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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