Metro has spent nearly $1.6 million defending the advertising policy that prohibits issue-oriented ads, newly released records show.
The legal tab, as of Aug. 13, includes hours billed, fees and other costs resulting from legal actions brought by the Archdiocese of Washington and others contesting the policy.
By comparison, the agency’s total legal expenses since January 2017 have amounted to about $22.8 million, including legal fees, judgments and settlements, according to documents and emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel, asked to comment on the legal fees, noted that the costs of defending the ad policy amount to about 8 percent of the revenue the agency receives from advertising every year.
The tally comes as the Archdiocese of Washington presses forward with its court battle over the transit agency’s decision not to run the church’s Christmas ads last year. In July, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Metro.
The archdiocese has since asked the full appeals court to reconsider the decision. Metro’s lawyers oppose a rehearing, saying the church has failed to meet the legal standard that would compel a new look. A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to comment other than to say that the case is proceeding.
Metro’s advertising policy, which was updated in 2015, prohibits issue-oriented ads with political, religious or advocacy messaging. The change was intended to steer Metro clear of controversy but has nevertheless created some of its own. The agency has rejected ads by the American Civil Liberties Union for a national conference in Washington, even after the civil rights group attempted to tone the ads down. It rejected “Go Vegan” ads from PETA. It accepted, then rejected, ads promoting right-wing activist Milo Yiannopoulos’s book “Dangerous.” It rejected an ad from a disability nonprofit organization called Humanity and Inclusion saying, simply enough, “Embrace humanity & inclusion.”
At the same time, the agency has approved intentionally provocative or risque ads, such as OKCupid’s #DTF campaign. It also gave the green light to an ad campaign from the University of the District of Columbia’s law school that depicted students with signs saying “Black Lives Matter.” Humanity and Inclusion, not to mention some ordinary riders, have also raised questions about whether some ads welcomed by Metro, such as those promoting military contractors and armaments, carry implicit political messages of their own.
The cases brought by the ACLU on behalf of PETA, Yiannapoulos and others have been stayed pending the outcome of the archdiocese case.
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