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Protecting Free Speech in Advertising

Korwin v. Cotton

Case Status

Date Filed

May 11, 2011

Last Step

Victory! Arizona Court of Appeals found the City violated free speech rights.

Next Step

Case Overview

On May 11, 2011, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Alan Korwin and TrainMeAz LLC to challenge the decision by Debbie Cotton, director of the Phoenix Public Transit Department, to remove posters at 50 bus shelters advertising the company’s website.

When the Arizona Legislature changed the law to allow individuals to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, weapons expert Alan Korwin saw a business opportunity helping people who wanted to safely exercise that right. He worked with training instructors and other organizations to create, a website connecting weapons owners to training services. The website is funded through sponsorships and advertising.

TrainMeAz launched an advertising campaign, including roadside billboards, in mid-2010 to attract customers to the website. Mr. Korwin also signed a contract with CBS Outdoors to place advertisements on 50 city-owned bus shelters, which CBS Outdoors manages.

CBS Outdoors then informed Mr. Korwin that the City of Phoenix objected to his ad. In a telephone conference call, city officials told Mr. Korwin the posters didn’t comply with a written requirement that bus shelter advertising only be used for speech that “proposes a commercial transaction.” However, city officials were unable to provide Mr. Korwin with any standards that would explain what kind of messages would meet that requirement.

Meanwhile, CBS Outdoors removed the posters at the city’s direction before the expiration of TrainMeAz’s contract.

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