Judicial Watch Statement on Federal Court Decision to Dismiss Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed by “Joe the Plumber”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton issued the following statement today regarding a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to dismiss Judicial Watch’s civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Joe Wurzelbacher, who is otherwise known as “Joe the Plumber”:
The implications of this court decision are frightening. Essentially the court has said that government officials can feel free to rifle through the private files of citizens without fear of being held accountable in court. How can the American people feel comfortable exercising their First Amendment rights when they may be subject to secret searches by politicized bureaucrats in return? It is unconscionable that high-ranking state officials pried into confidential government files to punish Joe Wurzelbacher for asking a simple question. Justice was not served with this decision. Judicial Watch will most certainly file an appeal on behalf of Mr. Wurzelbacher.
Judicial Watch’s lawsuit alleges that officials of the State of Ohio violated Mr. Wurzelbacher’s constitutional rights by illegally accessing confidential information from its official databases. The defendants are Helen Jones-Kelley, Fred Williams and Doug Thompson, the three highest ranking employees of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at the time of the alleged transgression. (The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, in conjunction with Ohio attorney David R. Langdon.)
On Sunday, October 12, 2008, Mr. Wurzelbacher was throwing a football with his son in the front yard of his home when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and his campaign entourage appeared on his street. Mr. Wurzelbacher, an employee of a small plumbing business, subsequently had the opportunity to ask Obama about the impact of his tax proposals on small businesses. Obama responded by saying, “It’s not that I want to punish your success; I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you that they’ve got a chance at success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” The exchange between Obama and Mr. Wurzelbacher resulted in widespread media attention and references to “Joe the Plumber” in the third presidential debate held on October 15, 2008.
According to a subsequent investigation by the Ohio Inspector General, on October 16, 2008, just four days after Mr. Wurzelbacher questioned Obama, Jones-Kelley, Williams and Thompson held a meeting and specifically discussed “Joe the Plumber.” Following the meeting the defendants authorized and instructed agency personnel to search confidential office databases to retrieve information about Mr. Wurzelbacher. All three defendants are believed to have been supporters of Obama’s presidential campaign.
The Inspector General found “no legitimate agency function or purpose for checking on [Mr. Wurzelbacher’s] name through the [confidential databases] or for authorizing these searches,” which he labeled a “wrongful act.” The Inspector General also determined that one of the defendants, Helen Jones-Kelley, misused state resources to conduct political activities on behalf of Obama.