Public employees' freedom of speech
Peter Hermann writes today about a federal circuit court opinion issued last week in the case of a Baltimore police officer, Michael Andrew, who was fired and then reinstated to a lesser position. His offense: leaking a report critical of city cops to The Sun. Federal judges ruled that he might have been disciplined unfairly. To them, the question was whether the officer was acting in an official capacity (in which case he overstepped the boundaries of his job) or whether he was exercising his personal freedom of speech, which he has the right to do.
This case is interesting to me, since I regularly encounter school system employees who won't talk to me or provide me with information for fear of being disciplined. (This is not unique to Baltimore, by the way; it's been the case in every district I've ever covered.) I think one of the biggest assets of this blog is that it enables people to speak out without fear of reprimand, since you don't need to leave your name in the comments.
In this blog entry, Peter quotes a concurring opinion in the case by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who says society actually needs more government insiders to leak information to reporters, particularly in this time of newspaper cutbacks.
"There are pros and cons to the changing media landscape, and I do not pretend to know what assets and debits the future media mix will bring," the judge wrote. "But this I do know—that the First Amendment should never countenance the gamble that informed scrutiny of the workings of government will be left to wither on the vine. That scrutiny is impossible without some assistance from inside sources such as Michael Andrew. Indeed, it may be more important than ever that such sources carry the story to the reporter, because there are, sad to say, fewer shoeleather journalists to ferret the story out."
You can read the decision here.