Conservative attorney and writer Scott Johnson has reached a settlement with the state after being locked out of the Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID-19 briefings for more than six months.
Johnson, an Alpha News board member and writer for Powerline, was allowed to participate in the press briefings and received written responses to his questions until April 27.
“Then they cut me off. They have refused to tell me why. They have failed to respond to any of my several inquiries. Something happened. I don’t know what it is. It seems to have had something to do with the questions I was asking,” Johnson said at the time.
As a result, Johnson filed a lawsuit against Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and communications director Michael Schommer.
“On April 27, Mr. Johnson asked a question that possibly exposed problems with the MDH’s strategy for combating the COVID-19 outbreak. MDH emails show that this question was ‘flagged’ for further discussion between MDH staff and the Governor’s staff. Mr. Johnson was thereafter excluded from all future daily briefings without explanation,” said the lawsuit.
When contacted by the Washington Free Beacon, state officials said Johnson was excluded from the briefings because they are reserved for “professional journalists.”
“The MDH’s decision to exclude Mr. Johnson was a form of content and viewpoint-based discrimination that infringes upon his First Amendment rights as an individual and as a member of the press,” the complaint said.
The Free Beacon also reported that the governor’s office controls access to the press briefings when Walz participates and limits the number of reporters who can attend.
Johnson announced in a Tuesday article for Powerline that he has reached a settlement with Malcolm and Schommer. Under the terms of the settlement, Johnson’s access to the press calls has been restored and health officials have agreed to answer three emailed questions per week.
In exchange, Johnson has agreed to waive his claims for damages and attorney’s fees. Additionally, the settlement limits the subject matter of Johnson’s questions to topics that are explicitly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mr. Johnson further agrees that he will refrain from asking any questions related to the lawsuit or MDH’s process for handling media inquiries if called upon on the COVID-19 Conference Line,” says the settlement.
A final condition stipulates that health officials can, but aren’t required to, call on Johnson during the briefings.
“They are afraid I might embarrass them gratuitously. I never contested either of these points. In my opinion, these provisions reflect poorly on defendants,” Johnson said in response.
Read the full settlement here: