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Westfield residents sued for speaking against cell tower at city meeting

Posted at 9:18 PM, Sep 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-01 21:18:29-04

WESTFIELD, Ind. -- Five Westfield residents say they were named in a lawsuit after they spoke at a public meeting about the location of a cell tower.

Ginny Kelleher and four other Westfield residents spoke for three minutes each at the Board of Zoning Appeals. They were all against the tower being placed near 161st and Towne Road.

A short time after they spoke at the meeting, the group says they received a court summons saying they'd been sued by Crown Castle Towers.

Kelleher and two others, including Tracy Pielemeier, hired attorney Jeff Heinzmann in response to the lawsuit.

"The unlimited resources of the cell tower company puts us at a disadvantage," Pielemeier said. "It's a David vs. Goliath thing. There is no way we can match that. But I think having publicity about what happened is very important. People need to participate in their city government."

In a prepared statement, Crown Castle said they included the remonstrators in the lawsuit because, "We were required by law to name and notify them of our petition."

While it's unclear if that's true, Heinzmann says the lawsuit has a chilling effect.

"To have someone who speaks out at a public hearing be subject to a lawsuit simply because they exercise their right to speak out puts a price on free speech, and any price on that is too high," Heinzmann said.

The board eventually approved the location of the cell tower in July. The remonstrators say they were not notified about the hearing.

The remonstrators say there should be a state law that protects them from such lawsuits. They are looking for someone to sponsor the legislation.