A gadfly’s analogy to a sex-related joke from the TV show Seinfeld wasn’t funny to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and angered Supervisor Andrew Do so much that he called for a policy to restrict the speech of those who step up to the speaker’s podium.
It started with remarks Tuesday by Michael Klubnikin, a local resident who regularly lambasts county supervisors as being part of what he claims is a conspiracy to illegally seize his mother’s properties.
Seeking to make an analogy regarding County Counsel Nick Chrisos pleading ignorance in his mother’s case, Klubnikin referenced a Seinfeld scene in which the character George Costanza is confronted by his boss about misconduct.
“His boss says ‘George, you were caught having sex on your desk with a cleaning lady.’ And George Costanza, Seinfeld’s buddy, says ‘Uh, was that wrong?’” Klubnikin told supervisors.
“The analogy is, your county counsel – lead county counsel – was caught having sex on the desk with a cleaning lady.”
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer interrupted.
“Mr. Klubnikin…if you are going to use those kinds of analogies in a public forum, where we have decorum, then I’m gonna call you on it.”
Klubnikin then doubled down in defense of his analogy.
“Your internal auditor engaged in a criminal coverup of the lead county counsel not paying a blankin’ mortgage on an estate that was seized. And you guys sit back like George Costanza and say ‘Ah, gee, was that wrong to have sex on the desk, uh, Mr. Chairman? You guys are shameless…You’re very polite, you’re very cordial. Makes you want to vomit because you guys are so phony.”
That seemed to be the end of the drama.
But during board member comments at the end of the session, Do asked his colleagues to enact a policy to restrict comments like Klubnikin’s.
“Week in, week out, every time we have a meeting, it seems like the berating is getting more intense,” Do said.
“I know freedom of speech is something that’s very difficult to curtail or to define, but there has to be, I think, something that we need to put in place, because I’m just getting fed up with the kind of comments that I hear nowadays.”
In taking that stance, Do challenged the very essence of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court said as much in its ruling on Texas v. Johnson.
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” the high court stated in its majority opinion in the case.
Spitzer was quick to express his understanding of the law.
“There are rules about what you can and cannot do,” Spitzer said, adding that he and other officials have received “excellent” suggestions on the issue at a forum hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union.
No other supervisors addressed the issue.
As for Klubnikin, Tuesday wasn’t the first time his antics have incensed supervisors to the point where they wanted to limit speech from the speaker’s podium. Except last time they were successful.
For years, he has attended nearly every regular board meeting and used topics on the weekly agenda, such as child services and air conditioning, as a platform to allege that supervisors were involved in a conspiracy to improperly seize several homes owned by his mother.
In reaction to Klubnikin, supervisors in late 2012 adopted new restrictions that limit the amount of overall time a public commenter can speak to nine minutes per meeting. Comments are also capped at three minutes per agenda item.