Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Suit Seeks Free Speech for City Employees

Two Cincinnati police officers (including Keith Fangman, former president of the local FOP) have filed suit against the City of Cincinnati, alleging that the City's blanket prohibition on city employees campaigning for political candidates is overbroad and violative of the First Amendment (as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment). According to the Enquirer, they seek an injunction forcing the City to permit them to donate money to and distribute literature for the presidential candidate of their choice (one favors Obama, the other McCain--apparently, there's no police officer who wishes to be identified with Nader). The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett. The plaintiffs are making it clear that they wish to take part in campaigns off-the-clock and (presumably) while dressed in civilian attire.

I've long thought that the City's prohibition was ripe for challenge, and I'm happy to see someone doing it. Should City employees be actively involved in the mayoral or Council elections? Probably not. But is there any coherent reason to exclude rank-and-file employees (not policy-makers) from participating in federal, state, and county races? Not that I can see. If the City is smart, it will quickly resolve this matter: the harder it fights, the higher the bill it will have to pay to the plaintiffs' attorneys once the case is concluded (because this is a civil rights case, a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to have his or her attorneys' fees paid by the defendant).

Full disclosure: I am a former associate (from 2004 - 2006) of the firm now known as Gerhardstein and Branch, which represents the plaintiffs. I no longer have any connection to the firm, nor have I sought to learn anything from anyone connected to that firm about this case.

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