While she’s not saying the omission of her name led to her loss, former Washington County Commission candidate Patricia Lynn Gothard is suing Wausau, saying the town violated her first amendment rights by refusing to run her political ad in the Possum Festival pamphlet.

PANAMA CITY — A former candidate for a county commission seat has sued the town of Wausau and its volunteer fire chief, claiming her freedom of speech was suppressed when her campaign advertisement was singled out to not be published in a Funday & Possum Festival pamphlet, according to court records.

Patricia Lynn Gothard recently filed a First Amendment lawsuit in the U.S. District of Northwest Florida against Wausau and Samuel Rudd, chief of the town’s volunteer fire department. In the lawsuit, Gothard claims that while she was campaigning in 2016 for the Washington County Commission, she was refused participation in a political pamphlet made available by the fire department to the thousands of attendees of the Wausau Possum Festival.

Gothard did not win the election for the commission seat but does not explicitly blame the loss on the lack of publicity.

Wausau “and … Rudd’s actions in concert with one another to ban Gothard’s ad from the town’s Possum Day book violated Gothard’s First Amendment protections of Free Speech,” the lawsuit states. “By allowing some ads to be included in the town’s Possum Day book, but prohibiting Gothard’s, (Wausau and Rudd) have arbitrarily and without statutory or other authority, suppressed one of the most sacred forms of free speech — political speech.”

In their response, the town argued that Gothard simply did not make the deadline to have an ad published in the pamphlet. Gothard is now asking the court to award compensatory and punitive damages to deter such discrimination of political speech in the future, court records stated.

But as part of Gothard’s lawsuit, she claims that she was the only political candidate excluded from the pamphlet. She pointed to several other candidates, who had not paid for an ad when she did, and still were publicized.

Wausau’s legal representatives did acknowledge many political candidates had not paid for their ads by the time it was sent off for publication. The difference, the town responded, was that those candidates previously had submitted an application. Gothard had not, court records show.

“On or about May 16, 2016, and more than two weeks after the deadline for submission of an application for ad space in the program had passed, (Gothard) submitted her application and payment,” Wausau’s response to the lawsuit stated. “… (Gothard’s) check for her ad submission was returned to her as her application was untimely.”

According to the lawsuit, the series of events began in May 2016 after Gothard had announced her candidacy for the District 5 seat on the Washington County Commission. She learned then that Wausau’s volunteer fire department solicits advertisements from businesses and local candidates for political office that is available for the thousands of attendees to the town’s annual Possum Festival. Gothard submitted her application and paid $120 days before it was sent off for printing, the lawsuit states.

In July, Gothard’s check was mailed back to her and she was made aware that she would not be included in the Possum Festival pamphlet, she stated.

“When (Gothard) inquired as to the reason her check was returned, she was informed that Chief Sam Rudd refused to allow her ad to be printed in his book,” the lawsuit states. Gothard “was the only District 5 candidate who was denied the ability to place an ad in the program book.”

The lawsuit does not state the reason Gothard was told her ad would not be published. She still claimed that the exclusion was “arbitrary,” had no legal basis and that was a violation of the First Amendment protection of political speech.

Wausau has denied the allegations.

The case is scheduled to go before U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in October for mediation.