Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Should Public Employee Whistleblowers Be Worried?

On Wednesday, October 12, 2005, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Garcetti et al. v. Ceballos, Docket No. 04-473.

This is a First Amendment free speech case that asks the question, "Should a public employee's purely job related speech, expressed strictly pursuant to the duties of employment, be blanketed with First Amendment protection simply because it touches on a matter of public concern, or should First Amendment protections also require the speech to be engaged in 'as a citizen' in accordance with the US Supreme Court's holdings in Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 US 563 (1968) and Connick v. Myers, 461 US 138 (1983)?"

In other words, if a public employee (a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney named Ceballos) performs his duties legally and ethically, can his employer (District Attorney Gil Garcetti) impose internal sanctions on that employee? Is the employee's conduct protected by the First Amendment free speech clause?

Ceballos' conduct involved reviewing an affidavit prepared by a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff and determining that the deputy had made factual misrepresentations in the affidavit. Ceballos recommended to his superiors that the charges should be dismissed based on the misrepresentations. Ceballos disclosed (as legally and ethically required) the misrepresentations to the accused's attorney. Subsequently, Ceballos was removed from that case and effectively demoted within the District Attorney's office.

A decent explanation of the facts and origin of the case can be found here at the Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism website.

An interesting perspective on this case was offered in a New York Times op-ed piece on October 10 by Coleen Rowley and Dylan Blaylock. Rowley, you may recall, was one of the FBI agents who blew the whistle on the FBI Headquarters' failure to respond adequately to some critical pre-9/11 information. The op-ed piece contains this assertion, "When one of us (Ms. Rowley) spoke out about the F.B.I.'s pre-9/11 lapses, it was likely only the leaking of her memo to the press that saved her from professional retaliation."

Ceballos is alleging retaliation of the type that Rowley believes she would have experienced had she not gone public.

Public employees at all levels of government will be affected by the Court's ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos.


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