Maryland paper fires back after county councilman threatens suit to keep name out of print

On Tuesday, a Maryland public official named Kirby Delauter became an Internet sensation for all the wrong reasons.

The Frederick County, Md. councilman threatened to sue his local newspaper, the Frederick News-Post, for publishing his name without his permission, despite his status as, again, a public official.

"Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an attorney," the Republican said in a Facebook post directed at News-Post county government reporter Bethany Rodgers this past Saturday.

"I just don't know how to respond to a request that stupid," Terry Headlee, managing editor of the 33,000 daily circulation newspaper, told The Associated Press on Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The paper eventually did answer Delauter's demand with mockery. It posted an advance look at its Sunday editorial on the newspaper's website, pointing out that Delauter's demand ignores, among other things, the First Amendment right of a free press.

But the newspaper also could not resist mining the rich opportunities for sarcasm that Delauter's demand offered.

There was the editorial's headline: "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter."

And the body of the editorial, describing the laughter that his demand provoked and exploring the ways The News-Post might henceforth refer to Delauter without using his name. Perhaps "K---- D-------." Or "Councilman (Unauthorized)."

Capping it off, the first letter of each paragraph spelled out: K-I-R-B-Y-D-E-L-A-U-T-E-R.

Mocking messages filled Twitter with the hashtag #kirbydelauter, which was trending among the top 10 most popular subjects in the U.S. on Tuesday evening.

A Google search for the name Kirby Delauter on Tuesday evening turned up more than 37,000 results.

Delauter, a general contractor, didn't respond to telephone and email messages from The Associated Press.

Rodgers — the subject of Delauter's ire — tweeted that the councilman didn't mention his sudden notoriety during opening comments at a council meeting Tuesday.

Delauter had objected to a recent story by Rodgers that said Delauter shared another councilman's concern about a shortage of reserved parking spaces for councilmembers at the county office building. Delauter wrote in his Facebook post that he had refused to be interviewed for the story because Rodgers had misrepresented his comments in the past.

This isn't the first time Delauter's quick temper and belligerent style have brought him unflattering attention during his four years as a county official. He stormed out of a board meeting in 2012 after telling a county staff member, "I'm not going to sit here and be talked to like some punk because I'm asking questions." Rodgers reported last year that Delauter called another board member a "moron" for disagreeing with him on an issue.

Headlee said it's the newspaper's job to hold elected officials accountable by name for their words and deeds.

"If he doesn't want to be held accountable, he needs to seriously consider whether he's cut out to serve the public," Headlee said.

Even if Delauter does sue, a lawsuit wouldn't likely go far.

Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at the University of California in Los Angeles, wrote online Monday: "In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.