Public Employee Enjoys Rare First Amendment Retaliation Success

First_amendment_3 From, comes this First Amendment retaliation case that reminds me of the old days of public employee free speech rights before the Garcetti decision of the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated free speech protection for these employees in 2006.

Hughes v. Region VII Area Agency on Aging, 07-1570 (6th Cir. Sept. 8, 2008) considered the claims of a former public employee who alleged that she was fired for her conversations with a local newspaper reporter. Because defendants did not claim that she spoke in accordance with her official duties, Garcetti v. Ceballos, was found inapplicable.

Instead, the court concluded that the trial court was in error and the plaintiff spoke on a matter of public concern protected by the First Amendment when she discussed with a newspaper reporter issues concerning a number of incidents relating to the former executive director of the agency, including alleged sexual harassment, a lawsuit settlement, and other turmoil surrounding the agency.

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Seventh Circuit Narrows Reach of Armed Career Criminal Act

On Friday, in United States v. Smith, the Seventh Circuit held that a conviction in Indiana for criminal recklessness could not be used as a predicate offense for a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act.  Ordinarily, felons found in possession of a firearm face a maximum sentence of ten years.  However, the ACCA raises the minimum to fifteen years for felons who have at least three prior convictions for “a violent felony or a serious drug offense.”  The Seventh Circuit’s decision to vacate Smith’s ACCA sentence last week illustrates the importance of Begay v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held that DUI does not count as a “violent felony” for ACCA purposes.  Prior to April, when Begay was decided, Seventh Circuit precedent indicated that a felony conviction for criminal recklessness counted; now, in light of Begay, the Seventh Circuit has adopted a new approach.

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Court Finds First Amendment Right to Forge E-Mail Headers

On Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down its revised decision in Jaynes v. Commonwealth, an appeal of a criminal conviction under Virginia’s anti-spam statute. The defendant, Jeremy Jaynes, was at the time of his arrest one of the most prolific spammers in the world, sending at least 10 million e-mails a day using 16 high-speed data lines, according to prosecutors. He used his e-mails to sell dubious software products, raking in $400,000 to $750,000 per month.

Jaynes argued that Virginia’s anti-spam statute violated the First Amendment. The statute prohibits sending “unsolicited bulk electronic mail” after having intentionally falsified the e-mail header information, i.e., the information indicating the source of the e-mail. That’s a little different than your average spam statute, which typically prohibits only “unsolicited commercial e-mail.” According to the unanimous Virginia Supreme Court (four members of which switched their votes on rehearing), prohibiting non-commercial bulk e-mailers from forging the header information violates the First Amendment right to speak anonymously.

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