U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Case on Whistleblower Rights; Could Have Implications for Public Hospital Workers
U.S. Supreme Court officials on Monday said that justices this fall will hear a case between Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti and former Pomona Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos to determine whether employees of state public agencies under the First Amendment have the right to make public allegations of wrongdoing without being penalized, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the Times, the case "could affect the rights of millions of public employees," including public hospital workers.
A defense lawyer in 2000 told Ceballos that a deputy sheriff might have lied about evidence in order to obtain a search warrant. After investigating the allegation, Ceballos wrote a memo to his supervisors that advised the prosecutor's office to dismiss the pending case because the search warrant was invalid.
Ceballos also gave the memo to the defense lawyer in the case, as is required by U.S. Constitutional law. The judge hearing the case allowed it to continue.
Ceballos said he was demoted and moved to another office out of retribution for his actions. Ceballos then sued Garcetti, one of his supervisors, alleging that he had been penalized for speaking out about a matter of public concern.
A U.S. district judge in Los Angeles dismissed Ceballos' claim, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last year ruled 2-1 that public employees have a First Amendment right to disclose "matters of public concern."
Lawyers for Garcetti and the California State Association of Counties appealed the second decision, saying it could have a "crippling effect on the management" of all public agencies.
Los Angeles County senior counsel Roger Granbo declined to comment on the case, the Times reports (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 3/1).