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Posted on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 6:37 p.m.

AATA agrees to settle lawsuit over refusal to allow anti-Israel advertisements on buses

By Ryan J. Stanton


An AATA bus on Liberty Street on July 5 featuring an ad for Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. The AATA still refuses to allow "Boycott Israel" ads on its buses.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The parties involved in a lawsuit over placing anti-Israel advertisements on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses have reached a settlement agreement.

According to a court order dated July 17, the case will be dismissed with prejudice and without costs and fees. That means the case is officially closed now.


Blaine Coleman's rejected ad.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the AATA on behalf of Ann Arbor resident and pro-Palestinian activist Blaine Coleman in November 2011 after the AATA refused to run Coleman's "Boycott Israel — Boycott Apartheid" advertisement on the sides of buses.

The AATA claimed the ad violated its advertising policy, while Coleman claimed the policy was unconstitutional.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the ACLU and Coleman in September 2012, agreeing the advertising policy was vague and unconstitutional.

The AATA's board held a special meeting in November 2012 to revise the policy, removing a sentence that stated all advertising on buses must be in "good taste," among other changes. But even with those changes, AATA officials still said Coleman's ad wouldn't be allowed on buses.

The legal battle continued and a federal judge ruled in June that the AATA had the grounds to not run the anti-Israel ad proposed by Coleman.

U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith found the basis for Coleman's suit was moot and AATA's revised policy presented no ongoing constitutional violation.

ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin said both sides decided a settlement was appropriate and they reached an agreement that worked for everyone.

Kathleen Klaus, a Southfield-based attorney who represented the AATA, said the terms of the settlement are confidential, so she couldn't discuss them, but she can say they're happy the case is over and that the AATA did not have to run Coleman's ad.

Korobkin said Coleman did not ask for any money from the AATA as part of the settlement, but the ACLU accepted payment from the AATA for some of its expenses and attorney fees. Korobkin said he couldn't say anything more than that under the terms of the agreement.

Korobkin said the ACLU brought the case to support the principles of free speech. From the ACLU's standpoint, he said, the legal case never had anything to do with Israel.

"We don't take a position on the merits of the speech when we're involved in a First Amendment case," he said. "The issue is not whether you agree with the speech or don't agree with the speech — the issue is whether the government's role is to make the decision to censor the speech."

He said the ACLU takes issue when government favors some kinds of political speech over others, and that's what was happening before the lawsuit was filed.

"The most significant aspect of this case was when the court ruled the AATA policy on advertising was unconstitutional," Korobkin said. "The AATA made some significant changes to that policy, and at this point, both sides have decided a settlement was the most appropriate way to go forward."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Jim Mazak

Sun, Jul 21, 2013 : 2:26 a.m.

U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith found the basis for Coleman's suit was moot and AATA's revised policy presented no ongoing constitutional violation. ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin said both sides decided a settlement was appropriate and they reached an agreement that worked for everyone. This article is vague on the settlement explanation. If a court found no constitutional violation, why was there a settlement at all? The AATA won the case, then agreed to a settlement? Was there more to the settlement than money? Did we promise something to Coleman, policy change, etc? We do not know the settlement was limited to ACLU and lawyer payments. I'm not upset about the case being brought against AATA (yet). If we put people in positions that are not qualified to write policy, the citizens need to deal with AATA, and we should be! I am upset that we live under a government of secrecy. This cannot be tolerated. We have to live under the decisions they make, remember, representative government. If new policy is created, if they place the taxpayer further in debt, these are now our responsibility, but we don't even know what the settlement was. If we need to file a FOIA to find out what our government is doing to us, they can't be trusted.

Colorado Sun

Sun, Jul 21, 2013 : 3:21 a.m.

Jim: Mr. Coleman prevailed by obtaining a preliminary injunction and this alone exposed the AATA to an attorney fee award under federal civil rights law. Additionally, the Court had scheduled a trial on the issue of whether the AATA could permissibly deny Mr. Coleman's ad request under a "scorn or ridicule grounds". Lastly, the ACLU has rights of appeal as to adverse rulings made earlier in the action that would likely cost tens of thousands of legal fees to adjudicate. They wisely bought their peace and concluded this proceeding to "stop the bleeding" financiallly.


Sun, Jul 21, 2013 : 12:41 a.m.

Ryan: I find it very inappropriate that you keep running Blaine Coleman's disgusting ad for free. You are making yourself an accomplice to his antics.

Colorado Sun

Sun, Jul 21, 2013 : 10:55 p.m.

The AATA elected to fight the case in federal court in lieu of placing the ad on a bus. It is a legitimate public issue and everyone should be allowed to evaluate the ad for themselves.


Sun, Jul 21, 2013 : 11:13 a.m.

But, we have to see it to understand how inappropriate it would be for it to be on the side of a bus.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

Dave Askins, Ann Arbor Chronicle, is reporting that AATA is going to make $276,000 in bus advertising this year. So one could argue that "other advertisers" are paying for the lawyers and the settlement.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 9:45 p.m.

Carl: We don't actually know WHO is paying for this because the AATA is hiding under a confidentiality clause for the monies shelled out to the ACLU and there is a liability insurance carrier that covers the AATA despite a $50,000 legal costs deductible. David Cahill's post is on point that we need someone to serve a FOIA request on the AATA to get the paper trail to show where the funds went and who paid whom. The only thing clear is that the AATA should have taken Blaine Coleman's $1,700 and ran the ad. This debacle could have been avoided.

David Cahill

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

You can tell who won a suit by looking at who pays whom. The article says the AATA paid the ACLU for some of its expenses and attorney fees. A FOIA request of the AATA for payment documents should reveal the amount.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

Now if the ad had been "Support Palestine, fund a suicide bomber to kill indiscriminately" I guess that would have been just fine.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

Thank you for suing us, here's some money...

Colorado Sun

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 6:13 a.m.

The defense of this case was driven by politically influential members of the pro-Israel community in Ann Arbor. Some of the AATA board members have ties to local Israeli causes. How does this square with the AATA mission? Civic leaders such as David Cahill and Mark Koroi had recommended that the AATA place the ad on the bus and Vivienne Armentrout said that ads should be discontinued on buses due to lawsuit exposure. We need an accounting of all monies paid to the ACLU and also those public funds expended in the defense of this action. Who paid the ACLU - the AATA or its liability insurer? The AATA had a $50,000 legal cost deductible with its liability insurer who appointed the Maddin Hauser Wartell firm to defend the claim; Kate Klaus works at that law firm. How much did the AATA exceed that deductible? David Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported that the first month of legal representation by this law firm was over $6,900 for the first month alone. Of questionable necessity was the retention of Aaron Ahuvia. Dr. Ahuvia is a U-M business professor who was retained at the rate of $250.00 per hour to testify that the ad could harm AATA revenues if placed on a bus. What is interesting is that Dr. Ahuvia also is a public speaker vocally advocating a two-state solution in Israel who has lectured on that topic at U-M as well; Dr. Ahuvia's wife, Aura, is a Reconstructionist rabbi. How much was he compensated for this case and who approved his hiring as an expert witness? Mr. Lax has served as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County and it is unclear why the AATA authorized his law firm to supplement the work being performed by Kate Klaus. Who retained and compensated him and how much was he paid? The irony is Mr. Coleman and his ad got far more exposure though this suit than if the AATA had simply allowed the ad in the first place. I would like to see an itemized audit to see how much in taxpayer funds went to finance this debacle.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

I think someone has WAY too much time on his hands. Are there not any important issues you could turn your energy and attention to?


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 11:44 a.m.

Great questions and information. These issues seem more significant than the lawsuit itself.

Honest Abe

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 2:46 a.m.

Whatever happened to "We have the right to refuse service"? I side with AATA on this one. It would have been nothing but controversy had they decided to go with running those ad's. Of course Blaine has the right to free speech, but that does not mean AATA has to express it for him.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

My issue with the ad was and is the illustration! Totally unnecessary and I personally find it disgusting and hateful.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

You got that wrong craigjjs. As you may notice, the ads are still not on the buses. The original wording of the regulation was too vague, but they changed it, and now it passes constitutional muster. And it still forbids the ads. So they are "refusing service".


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

The Court that declared the policy unconstitutional obviously disagreed with you. The purported "right to refuse service" does not trump the Constitution.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 2:21 a.m.

The ad was bad. How about "Stop Funding Israel" with NO dumb looking picture. Detroit could really use the 6 BILLION dollars of taxpayers money that the US gives to Israel.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

You mean Israel might use IT'S nuclear know the ones they "don't" have & the US taxpayer paid for. Israel is a big boy now let them stand on their own two feet

Basic Bob

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

In three years, Detroit might be solvent, and the Middle East might be a nuclear wasteland. I'd take that chance.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 2:09 a.m.

@ SonnyDog09, re: "Then AATA turns around and gives my tax dollars to the ACLU." Probably the better use of your tax dollars. So all is well.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 12:22 a.m.

It is so good to see my tax dollars hard at work. It's bad enough that my taxes go to the AATA boondoggle. Then AATA turns around and gives my tax dollars to the ACLU.

Michigan Reader

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

@Tano--Banning ads that aren't in "good taste" leaves too much discretion to the AATA. What's "good taste?" It's too subjective. So, it's void for vagueness. Same with some criminal statutes, they have to be more precisely tailored so the citizen knows what is required of him/her.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Obviously unconstitutional? How so? They seem to have had a regulation banning ads that were not in "good taste". That seems like a perfectly reasonable standard to me. The court found it to be unconstitutionally vague. OK, so they changed the wording a bit, to get the same result. And that passes muster. I don't think "stupid" is appropriate at all.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 11:40 a.m.

Thank the AATA for maintaining and obviously unconstitutional policy. They likely paid more money to their outside attorneys than the ACLU. Stupid.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 12:04 a.m.

Ryan Please explain HOW this can remain confidential.

Michigan Reader

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 8:30 p.m.

I think the "attorney--client" privilege allows the AATA (or the city of Ann Arbor) to keep this out of the public eye.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 2:27 a.m.

@The Infinite Jester: Not when public funds are being paid - the Freedom of Information Act overrides any confidentiality clause.

The Infinite Jester

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 1:54 a.m.

I think most lawsuit settlements are.

Colorado Sun

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:38 p.m.

What a great guy that Blaine Coleman is! The Ann Arbor City Council should pass a resolution honoring him for his work in human rights activism.

Colorado Sun

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:34 p.m.

".......The ACLU accepted payment from the AATA for some of its expenses and attorney fees." I am sure the AATA wanted a confidentiality clause to prevent public embarrassment over having to disclose how much cash the ACLU received for their laudable work in this case. The Freedom of Information Act overrides confidentiality clauses on settlements when public funds are expended - so someone should file a FOIA request with the AATA to obtain this information. Who are the big winners? (1)The ACLU for obtaining a favorable ruling as to unconstitutionality and getting some "big bucks" in their coffers; (2)Blaine Coleman for getting a ton of free publicity for his ad and himself; (3)the pro-Israel community in Ann Arbor for keeping the ad off city buses; (4)the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board for hiding the embarrassing amount of cash doled out to the ACLU via their "confidentiality clause"; (5)Jerry Lax and Aaron Ahuvia - for generating "big bucks" in professional fees. Who is the big loser - the local taxpayers, of course.

Michigan Reader

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 8:28 p.m.

@Brad--They could hide the settlement amount under the "attorney--client" privliege.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

Why would they even hide the settlement amount knowing it can be FOIA'd? Actually why would a PUBLIC ENTITY be allowed to hide anything like that?


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

Maybe you should wait to see how big the bucks were before you pratter on endlessly about "the big bucks".... Or do you have some inside knowledge you would like to share?

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:14 p.m.

"The most significant aspect of this case was when the court ruled the AATA policy on advertising was unconstitutional," Many government servants must frequently be reminded that the constitution doesn't just apply to certain people.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 12:07 a.m.

They only modified the policy after the court found their policy unconstitutional. Selective reading maybe?


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 12:03 a.m.

U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith found the basis for Coleman's suit was moot and AATA's revised policy presented no ongoing constitutional violation. Selective reading maybe?

An Arborigine

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:12 p.m.

If a single dime went to Coleman I'll file a suit to stop payment of AATA taxes, this is an outrage!


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 7:06 p.m.

Nuisance lawsuit? Look, this is how the world works. Its how it is supposed to work. Government agency does its best to promulgate a fair regulation. A citizen comes out on the wrong end of one, and thinks the reg is unfair. A judge rules, that yes it is unfair. A new rule is written, a better, more clear rule. The citizen still doesn't get what he wants, but it is because of a better-explained rule. Democracy in action. Maybe you would prefer a world in which some god passed down sets of perfect rules that everyone would obey without question, but we don't have such a world. Maybe a chill pill would help...

An Arborigine

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

@craig, I'll take that on advisement councelor. @Tano, The nuisance lawsuit brought about by Coleman's bigoted anti-semitism is the outrage.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

"... this is an outrage!" What is an outrage? "Korobkin said Coleman did not ask for any money from the AATA as part of the settlement" Did you not read the article? Or do you just have a hankerin' to get outraged anyway?


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

The article seems to indicate there was no payment to Coleman, but if there was, good luck with that lawsuit. You will need it.

Basic Bob

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 10:48 p.m.

I want to thank all the Ann Arbor taxpayers who donated an undisclosed amount of money to the ACLU in supporting the right to free speech.

Colorado Sun

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:41 p.m.

Hey! The ACLU had one of its members on the AATA board - David Nacht. The First and Fourteenth Amendments were enforced.