Johnson sues state board | AspenTimes.com

Johnson sues state board

Janet Urquhart

Aspen City Councilman Jack Johnson has filed suit against the Colorado Board of Examiners of Architects, claiming members overstepped their bounds and violated his constitutional right of free speech when they censured him for describing himself as an architect.The suit, filed Monday in district court in Denver, asks the court to find that the board has violated Johnson’s First Amendment rights and that it overstepped its authority in ordering Johnson to desist from referring to himself as an architect. The board also threatened Johnson with criminal sanctions if he fails to comply with the order.”The order appears to prevent him from even describing this case,” said Christopher Beall, an attorney with the Denver law firm of Faegre & Benson, who is representing Johnson.The dispute stems from the spring City Council race, when Johnson – then a candidate for office – described himself as an architect, prompting questions from then-mayoral candidate Bert Myrin, who accused Johnson of misrepresenting himself because he is not a licensed architect. Myrin, who was supporting Johnson’s opponent, ultimately filed a complaint with the board of examiners.”I made it clear to anyone listening that I was not a licensed architect. There was never any doubt in anybody’s mind,” Johnson said. “The board decided to say they are in charge of the word ‘architect’ in any context. It’s simply not the case.”Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and has done architectural work but has not misrepresented himself as a licensed architect, according to the lawsuit.”By prohibiting Mr. Johnson from truthfully and non-deceptively using the word ‘architect’ to describe himself, regardless of the context or anything Mr. Johnson might say about his education, his work history, or his current professional status, the [board] has deprived [Johnson] of his rights to free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states.”Where the board of examiners appears to have gone off the rails is they have misunderstood the scope of their authority,” Beall said.It’s clear Johnson described himself as an architect within the context of a political campaign and not for the purpose of soliciting architectural work. The board of examiners’ authority is limited to regulating licensed architects within a commercial context, Beall said.”I do think they need to step back and think about what they’re doing,” Beall said. “Do they really want to get into the business of regulating people’s social conversations? Do they really want to regulate political speech?”The state attorney general’s office, which represents the board of examiners, will have 20 days to respond to the suit once the agency is served with it.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com