State rescinds censure of Aspen city councilman
Aspen City Councilman Jack Johnson is allowed to refer to himself as an architect, at least within a political debate, a state board has agreed.The Colorado Board of Examiners of Architects has rescinded the order it issued last summer in which it directed Johnson to cease calling himself an architect or face possible criminal sanctions. The councilman responded by suing the board, claiming it overstepped its bounds and violated his constitutional right of free speech.That lawsuit is still pending, though Johnson received a letter last week, signed by John Roberts, Colorado assistant attorney general, that indicates the board has rescinded its order after further review of the facts that led to the censure. The state statute under which the board censured Johnson “does not apply in the context of political debate,” the letter states.”It goes to, in my opinion, how meritless and ludicrous the charges were in the very beginning,” Johnson said Tuesday.Nonetheless, Johnson said he is not willing to drop his lawsuit, despite the board’s reversal.”It’s not over. It doesn’t go far enough,” Johnson said of the latest development. “I don’t look at it as 100 percent vindication, even though I don’t have this sanction hanging over my head anymore.”The dispute stems from the spring 2005 City Council race, when Johnson – then a candidate for office – described himself as an architect with regard to his profession, prompting questions from then-mayoral candidate Bert Myrin, who accused Johnson of misrepresenting himself, as he is not a licensed architect. Myrin, who was supporting Johnson’s opponent, ultimately filed a complaint with the Board of Examiners.In a letter, Myrin later urged the state attorney general’s office to consider the maximum imprisonment or fine for Johnson for the misdemeanor. The maximum jail term, according to Johnson, is six months. He called Myrin’s request, made after the board had already censured him, “disturbing and outrageous.”Myrin, noting that Johnson referred to himself as an architect at a recent City Council meeting, contends the councilman continues to deceive the public. The state’s latest decision hasn’t swayed Myrin. “It doesn’t change my view … I think the integrity is missing,” he said.But Johnson, in his lawsuit, claims the state board overstepped its authority in trying to regulate noncommercial speech. Johnson said he has not represented himself with the intent of soliciting architectural work – the type of misrepresentation over which the board has authority.During a deposition Friday in Denver, a representative of the board would not assure Johnson that he couldn’t be censured again for identifying himself as an unlicensed architect, Johnson said.”So, they haven’t let me off the hook for saying truthful things,” he said.”From a legal point of view, the issue is, has the decision of the board, in rescinding the cease and desist order, fully resolved the First Amendment issue,” said Christopher Beall, an attorney with the Denver law firm Faegre & Benson who is representing Johnson. “Can he truthfully, in a noncommercial context, describe himself as an architect?”The First Amendment issue is broader than whether Johnson, or anyone else, can describe him or herself as an architect within a political debate – the narrow context the state cited in rescinding its earlier order, Beall said.A May trial date has been set for Johnson’s lawsuit, but Beall said he will file a motion on Johnson’s behalf seeking summary judgment, in essence asking the judge to rule in Johnson’s favor.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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