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Measure S mailers are probably protected free speech, law expert says

by Take Two®

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A photo released by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department showing a mailer put out by supporters of Measure S designed to look like an eviction notice, noting the indications that it's not a real eviction notice. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

You might have gotten a nasty surprise in the mail recently that read, "County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. EVICTION NOTICE."

It's not real, though. It's a political mailer.

And Los Angeles County officials were not happy.

"The political mailer depicted in the photos attached to this message is counterfeit and could mislead members of the public to believe they are subject to legal action by the Sheriff’s Department," the Sheriff's department said in a statement.

Sheriffs then sent a cease and desist order to the campaign behind Measure S.

But then the campaign shot back that officials were trying to "censor the free speech rights of the proponents."

Could a misleading mailer like this be protected by the First Amendment?

"It probably is," says Rick Hasen, election law expert at UC-Irvine. "It's really a First Amendment problem to try to limit what people say in campaigns, even if it's false."

Hasen says that, on this matter, courts have said the best answer isn't censorship.

"The proper remedy is to respond and explain why it's false," he says.

But there is a risk in trying tactics like this recent one.

"It doesn't mean it's a smart thing to do. It could backfire politically," says Hasen.

Listen to the full interview by clicking the blue audio player above.

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