In an interesting First Amendment case, Sidley successfully represented Clear Channel Outdoor, a billboard company, in a lawsuit stemming from the 2019 race for mayor of the City and County of San Francisco. The lawsuit was filed by Ellen Zhou, the conservative candidate for mayor, and the Asian American Freedom Political Action Committee (AAFPAC), a political action committee formed to support Zhou.
In October 2019, Zhou and AAFPAC rented several billboards from Clear Channel and another sign company attacking Mayor Breed over topics such as human trafficking, public defecation, drug use and public corruption. The Breed campaign attacked one billboard as racist and inflammatory, and held a press conference to call for its removal. In light of this public outcry, Clear Channel reviewed the different billboard images that it had posted and decided voluntarily to remove them.
After losing the election, Zhou and AAFPAC sued Mayor Breed and the billboard companies, claiming they had colluded to deprive Zhou of her First Amendment rights, as well as violated their contracts. The plaintiffs were represented by the California Constitutional Rights Center and retired California Judge Steven Bailey, himself a former Republican candidate for California Attorney General. The Plaintiffs argued that because the billboard company had removed the signs in response to public pressure, it was liable for constitutional rights violations as though it was the state.
Sidley partner Gordon Todd argued the motion to dismiss on May 6, 2020 in a virtual hearing, and on May 26, 2020, U.S. District Judge William Orrick granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss with prejudice and awarded attorney fees to Mayor Breed. Sidley partner Brian Stretch and associates David McAloon and Katy (Yin Yee) Ho assisted in the matter.