High Court to Review Whistleblower Suit

The Supreme Court (search) agreed Monday to consider whether a whistleblower (search) prosecutor may sue his former employers for retaliation after he reported possible wrongdoing by the sheriff's office.

Justices will review a lower court ruling in favor of Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos (search), who said he was demoted and denied a promotion for trying to expose a lie by a county sheriff's deputy in a search warrant affidavit.

At issue is the scope of the First Amendment (search), which protects government workers from discharge if their conduct involves a "public concern" rather than personal, job-related issues such as salary.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ceballos' speech was constitutionally protected and the district attorney's office didn't have immunity from Ceballos' lawsuit.

"When government employees speak about corruption, wrongdoing, misconduct, wastefulness or inefficiency by other government employees, including law enforcement officers, their speech is inherently a matter of public concern," the appeals court stated.

"His interest in the speech outweighed the public employer's interest in avoiding inefficiency and disruption," it said.

The controversy began in February 2000, when a defense attorney told Ceballos that the sheriff's deputy might have lied in the affidavit. Ceballos determined that the deputy had indeed given false information and he wrote a memorandum to supervisors recommending dismissal of the case.

Ceballos said supervisors subsequently demoted him from his position as calendar deputy, denied him a promotion despite his high evaluation scores and transferred him to another office.

The case is Garcetti v. Ceballos, 04-473.