MARCH 22, 2006
A federal whistleblower law that protects public employees from retaliation for denouncing government misconduct could be severely weakened if the Supreme Court rules against a former county prosecutor in a case being debated this week.
The high court’s decision will affect the nation’s 20 million public employees and a negative ruling would eliminate their ability to use the First Amendment as protection against supervisors’ retaliation for exposing government misconduct. The ruling will also affect the way government employers and employees communicate in the workplace, which will in turn, influence the degree to which public officials can be held accountable.
The case involves a Los Angeles County prosecutor (Richard Ceballos) who was demoted for urging his supervisors to drop a criminal case after he provided evidence of wrongdoing by the arresting officer who, among other things, lied on a search warrant affidavit.
Ceballos sued the District Attorney’s office when he was demoted and denied a promotion in retaliation, but a trial court judge dismissed the suit and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in October 2005 and debated the issue – whether government employees have free-speech rights that protect them while they carry out their duties – this week.
Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has sided with the District Attorney’s office saying that the government’s desire to maintain an efficient workplace outweighs an employee’s right to voice opinions about internal decision-making.
Most in the legal profession support the former prosecutor and one well-known law blog wrote that he got in trouble for one simple reason: he performed his job exactly as he was supposed to.
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