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Local politician's threat to sue Maryland newspaper backfires

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Maryland politician's threat to sue a newspaper if it printed his name has backfired, with the dispute and the politician's name now splashed across the Internet and social media.

Angered by a news story, Kirby Delauter, a Republican member of the Frederick County Council, said in a posting on Facebook on Saturday that he would sue the Frederick News-Post if it used his name in any way without permission.

"Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an attorney," Delauter wrote. "Your rights stop where mine start."

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Delauter was responding to a story on Saturday about a flap with the county executive over council parking spaces and office keys.

The newspaper in Frederick, about 40 miles (64 km) northwest of Washington, responded with a story on Tuesday about the threat and an editorial titled "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter."

The editorial cited the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom and used Delauter's full name 25 times. In an acrostic, the first letter of each paragraph spelled out Delauter's name.

Terry Headlee, the managing editor of the 30,000-circulation newspaper, said at first he thought Delauter's threat was a joke.

"I just couldn't believe that an elected official would say something so stupid," he said on Wednesday. Headlee said the News-Post had to take the lawsuit threat seriously, but had heard nothing since Delauter's Facebook post.

Delauter, who is in his second term on the county council and runs a construction company, did not respond to requests for comment.

The flap over publicizing Delauter's name has gone viral, with the dispute showing up on Internet news sites and the hashtag #kirbydelauter trending on Twitter.

"The name Kirby Delauter is now famous precisely because he didn't want anyone using it. Welcome 2 the intrwebz, Kirb," tweeted @jimbradysp.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alan Crosby)