Missouri Broadcasters To Recoup Legal Fees In Long-Running Fight Over Alcohol Ad Rules.
May 27, 2020
A federal judge has awarded $136,201 to the Missouri Broadcasters Association to cover the legal bill in the group’s long-running battle against strict rules on alcohol advertising in the state. District Court Judge Douglas Harpool said that not only did the Association win its suit striking down the state laws, but he also noted the state chose to appeal his June 2018 decision that had reached the same conclusion, forcing broadcasters to spend even more on legal fees.
In a three-page decision Harpool said the state of Missouri raised claims in its appeal that weren’t made at trial, and that required the Association’s legal team to do additional research. The appeal also attracted “significant attention from around the country,” according to the judge, who pointed out that three briefs were filed from ten different organizations arguing that the case had far reaching implications. That meant even more research and preparation for oral arguments with the clock running on the legal bills. Even with the ten percent discount that the Association’s lawyers gave the trade group, the tab quickly added up. Harpool concluded, however, the costs were “reasonable” based on the experience, reputation, and abilities of the attorneys involved in the case and ordered the state of Missouri to pay all of what the Association had sought.
It’s not the first time Harpool has ordered the state to cover broadcasters’ legal bills. In October 2018 he ordered the state to pay $404,300 in legal fees to the Association to cover the costs related to its district court fight. “The defendants had every opportunity to avoid this lawsuit,” he wrote in that decision.
A federal appeals court in January upheld the lower court decision that struck down three state laws that put restrictions on alcohol advertising. The three-judge panel in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was unanimous in its decision, which said the state limits violated First Amendment free speech rights. The appeals court said the Missouri laws, which severely restrict alcohol distributors and producers from most retail advertising, aren’t needed to ensure an “orderly” marketplace as the state had argued under successive Attorneys General.
The Missouri Broadcasters Association has been leading the charge to have the state’s regulations struck down for nearly a decade. MBA has been focused on the issue since 2011 and it first took the state to court in 2013. During each phase of the case it’s scored a victory, only to be taken back into court when the state appealed the decision. The latest Appeals Court ruling was in response to the state’s appeal of a decision handed by Harpool which sided with broadcasters and determined the state’s strict limits violated commercial free speech rights.
While the Missouri Broadcasters Association has bankrolled the fight, it was joined in the appeal by Zimmer Radio Group, the Springfield, MO wine producer Meyer Farms; and Uncle D’s Sports Bar & Grill in Saint Joseph, MO. Broadcasters also picked up the support of several outside groups: Washington Legal Foundation, the Show-Me Institute, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, the Freedom Center of Missouri and the Cato Institute all filed friend-of-the-court briefs advocating for the law to be struck down.
Missouri had some of the strictest alcohol advertising rules in the country, employing a three-tiered system of alcohol producers, distributors and retailers designed to keep producers and distributors from having “undue influence” over places that sell or serve their products. But broadcasters successfully argued the rules unfairly disadvantaged local radio and television stations and newspapers since internet ads weren’t covered by the laws.
This article is the intellectual property of Inside Radio. Re-posted here with permission.