Fresno will pay $60,000 to forum - City to retract release calling Free Republic a 'hate group.'

By Jim Davis
The Fresno Bee

January 13, 2004

Fresno, CA - Fresno will pay $60,000 to conservative online forum Free Republic and retract a news release that called the organization a "hate group," according to a settlement agreement released Monday.

Free Republic founder Jim Robinson, who lives in Fresno, said he wouldn't have filed the suit if the city had acknowledged its error.

"I think it's unfortunate the city did not retract and apologize immediately after they knew they were in the wrong," Robinson said.

City Attorney Hilda Cantu Montoy said the lawsuit was settled to "avoid the expense and burden of litigation."

"It's not in any way admitting any liability by any party," Montoy said.

Former Human Relations Commission Chairwoman Debbie Reyes, who sent out the news release in September and who resigned this month, said the city should have "stuck it out and fought it."

"I don't think they should have settled, but they pretty much settle on anything," Reyes said.

Free Republic is an Internet group. Robinson says it has about 50 to 100 members in the central San Joaquin Valley and about 50 chapters across the nation.

Robinson said he plans to use the settlement money to travel across the country in a motor home visiting Free Republic chapters. He will end the trip in Washington, D.C.

The release issued on city stationery warned of a picnic that Free Republic was planning in Woodward Park.

According to the release, "The information on this group's website clearly indicates threats of violence toward any minority groups that interfere with their rally or picnic."

Free Republic filed a $1 million claim against the city contending that it had been defamed in the news release. The sides held a mediation session last week and the settlement went to the Fresno City Council in closed session last Tuesday.

Reyes resigned from the commission Jan. 2. She said that she has a new job as an organizer for a nonprofit.

The settlement does not mention Reyes' position with the commission, but she said it was a factor in her resigning.

"It was a collaboration of a lot of things," Reyes said. "There were a lot of reasons. There were a lot of irons in the fire. And this was just one more reason."

Robinson said the city needed to get control over its Human Relations Commission -- a group charged with promoting peace and harmony in the community.

He said he thinks that will happen with Reyes' resignation.

"They were totally out of control," Robinson said. "They need to get some adults over there."

The reporter can be reached at or 441-6171.



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