Appeals court upholds ruling in local First Amendment case

Jacob Smith • Jan 26, 2018 at 3:23 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a ruling Wednesday from Middle Tennessee district court after a Wilson County probation officer claimed a violation of her First Amendment rights.

Rachel Jones claimed her firing by supervisor Terry Duncan was a violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

On Sept. 5, 2014, Duncan notified Jones she was fired because she made allegedly false statements during a court hearing. Specifically, defendants alleged Jones was asked whether a criminal defendant could attend a drug and alcohol counseling class provided by a counselor, Chris Buchanan. Jones allegedly responded Buchanan said the defendant could not attend. Buchanan later told the defendant’s lawyer he never said that.

The district court found April 26 that Jones was speaking as a public employee as part of her official duties, rather than as a citizen for First Amendment purposes. According to Garcetti v. Ceballos from 2006, a public employee’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech is subject to limitations when her speech is made as part of her official duties.

Jones also claimed the district court was wrong to exercise jurisdiction over her claim under the Public Employee Political Freedom Act, which provides that a public employer cannot “discipline, threaten to discipline or otherwise discriminate against an employee because such employee exercised his or her right to communicate with an elected public official.”

Jones lastly argued she was fired for talking in open court with the judge, an elected public official. The district court found Jones was fired, not for communicating with the judge in that case, but for allegedly providing false testimony.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the district court’s ruling that Jones’ termination was not a violation of her First Amendment rights. 

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