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Officer's statement not protected by First Amendment

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A divided Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled the New Albany Police Department had the right to discipline an officer whose racially charged comments made to fellow officers were leaked to the press and made public.

In Jack Messer v. New Albany Police Department, No. 22A05-1104-MI-179, the COA affirmed a judgment by Floyd Superior Judge Roger Duvall granting summary judgment for the New Albany Police Department.

The case involves the suspension of longtime officer Jack Messer, who made a controversial comment to fellow officers after an internal roll call meeting in January 2010. He said, “The biggest mistake that government made was giving those people civil rights.” After saying he didn’t mean what he had said, a complaint was not filed and his supervising officer didn’t believe a violation had occurred. But several days later, the comment was leaked to the press.

An internal police department investigation cleared Messer of wrongdoing, but a police merit commission complaint found the statement caused offense to the members of the community, raised suspicion of racism within the department, and was considered conduct unbecoming of an officer. The commission suspended him for 30 days, and on judicial review Duvall granted the department’s summary judgment motion.

Messer argued on appeal that his statement was protected by the First Amendment and the department should not have subjected him to discipline for making it. The parties agreed the First Amendment question was before the appellate court and is governed by Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 566 (1968), which held the First Amendment protected a public school teacher who wrote a letter to a newspaper in which he criticized the allocation of school funds and the manner by which the school board raised such funds. The court didn’t establish a general constitutional standard applicable to all government-employee-speech cases, but created a two-step test and held the government’s interest as employer must be balanced on a case-by-case basis against the individual and societal First Amendment interests.

Judges Melissa May and Edward Najam found that the department deserved special preference under the Pickering analysis because, like a previous case of City of Indianapolis v. Heath, 686 N.E.2d 940 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), the officer’s speech caused a disruption and the comment wasn’t made as a private citizen. The value of the speech was also low, according to the court majority, because it wasn’t made as a part of government speech.

Judge John Baker disagreed in a separate opinion that said he would have reversed the trial judge’s summary judgment grant for the police department. He determined the statement was made in private and Messer had no reason to expect it would become public and “disrupt” the department, and because of that this case is distinguishable from Heath. The statement was protected by the First Amendment, Baker wrote.

 

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  • anti-white speech cases
    So a political opinion about civil rights is not protected speech? The article doesnt say but we all know that the officer was white. Only whites tend to get their speech characterized as "racially charged" whatever that means. if a nonwhite person says something white people dont like, that would be protected speech for sure. Basically the courts are now implementing antiwhite laws in spite of race supposedly not being a legit factor in state action. Sure, unless its the judiciary taking it into consideration! Some first amendment cases boggle my mind. The ones that disallow nativities but never seem to involve the frequent conspicuous candle lightings of other sectarian faiths. Or how porn is protected speech but political speech is not. Totally backwards misapplication of the first amendment without any regard for framer's intent. Some first amendment! Only protects speech that the powerful approve of in advance. Maybe I shouldnt even say this or somebody will be pushing out a subpoena to see if they can get me fired, too. THOUGHTCRIME!

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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