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Wednesday, March 5, 2008 01:39 am

RSVP or else

High Court seeks city’s side in ex-cop’s lawsuit

Untitled Document The U.S. Supreme Court wants the city of Springfield to explain why a police sergeant who blew the whistle on two brothers in blue isn’t protected by the First Amendment. The sergeant, Ron Vose, resigned from SPD and filed suit in 2006 against then-Chief Don Kliment and then-Deputy Chief Bill Rouse, claiming that they had effectively demoted him in retaliation for his complaints against the department’s two star detectives, Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham, who were later fired. U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott denied the city’s motion to dismiss Vose’s suit, but in October the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Scott’s ruling, saying that Vose’s criticism of the detectives was simply part of his job and therefore not protected by the First Amendment.
Vose’s attorneys then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the 7th Circuit’s decision. Such a filing — known as a petition for writ of certiorari but usually referred to as a “cert petition” — requires no response from the opposing party, and the city of Springfield elected not to answer Vose’s cert petition. Last week, however, the Supreme Court requested a response. In a letter addressed to Springfield assistant corporation counsel Tracy Ann Johansson, a clerk wrote: “Although your office has waived the right to file a response [. . . ], the Court nevertheless has directed this office to request that a response be filed.” The city must send 40 copies of the response, bound with orange covers, by March 27. Vose’s attorney, Stanley Wasser, says it’s impossible to know what — if anything — the request signals. “We don’t read anything into this, because we have no way of knowing what prompted it or what it means,” Wasser says. Jenifer Johnson, corporation counsel for the city of Springfield, referred a reporter to city spokesman Ernie Slottag, who was unaware that the city had received a letter from the Supreme Court. The case closely resembles a recent narrowly decided Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos.
Richard Ceballos was a Los Angeles assistant prosecutor who discovered that a deputy sheriff had filed a misleading affidavit to obtain a search warrant. Ceballos wrote a memo to his bosses, suggesting that the case be dropped because of government misconduct, but his supervisors decided to proceed with the case anyway. Ceballos also testified to his findings in court, but the judge likewise allowed the case to continue. Claiming that he was subsequently denied a promotion, demoted in rank, and transferred to another office in retaliation, Ceballos filed suit against his supervisors, including Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti. In 2006, the Supreme Court majority ruled that Ceballos’ complaints about the deputy’s false affidavit fell under his job duties, excluding him from the protection that would have been accorded to a private citizen. The 7th Circuit relied on the Supreme Court’s Garcetti ruling in its dismissal of Vose’s case, stating: “Vose may have gone above and beyond his routine duties by investigating and reporting suspected misconduct in another police unit, but that does not mean that he spoke as a citizen and not as a public employee.”
In his petition, Wasser argued that Garcetti needed clarification, pointing to the 7th Circuit’s interpretation as overly broad.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com
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