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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. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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