06/01/06 — Bad ruling: Shielding corruption

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Bad ruling: Shielding corruption

The U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, has reduced public employees’ protection from punishment for being “whistle-blowers.”

The decision was based on a deputy district attorney’s suit contending he had been transferred and denied promotion because he had urged the dropping of a pending criminal case because of police misconduct.

A federal court of appeals had supported the deputy prosecutor, Richard Caballos, saying he had spoken on a “matter of public concern.”

But the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying: “The First Amendment does not prohibit managerial discipline based on an employee’s expressions made pursuant to official responsibilities.”

Observers say the decision would apply to public employees at all levels — including federal and state agencies, public hospitals, schools and colleges.

Justice David Souter, one of the dissenters in the ruling, contended that concern over official wrongdoing and threats to health and safety should have been paramount.

Advocates of protection for whistle-blowers regarded the ruling as a major setback. They said employees aware of corruption in public office, law enforcement agencies and even hospitals “may be dissuaded from exposing” the situations.

The ruling certainly appears to offer a cloak of protection for wrongdoers at the expense of the public good.

Published in Editorials on June 1, 2006 11:01 AM