Bill Rankin at the AJC reports that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a Federal District Court’s dismissal against former Clayton County District Attorney for an alleged violation of his First Amendment right to Free Speech. This is the latest chapter in what was a debacle of a tenure for. Mrs. Scott as the District Attorney in Clayton County, Georgia. Mrs. Scott and husband Lee Scott were both elected to DA and Chair of the Board of Commissioners respectively. Both lost overwhelmingly in 2008. Their tenure in Clayton County accompanied a wholesale change in leadership in that county, including the election of Victor Hill as Sheriff, who promptly fired many sheriff’s department employees. As those employees left the building, Mr. Hill posted snipers on the roof of the law enforcement complex. When she began serving as DA, she had never tried a case to a jury. Mr. Hill’s time in office led to Federal suits as well.
In this particular instance, Ms. Scott’s chief investigator Earl Randall announced that he wanted to run against Ms. Scott’s husband, Lee Scott, for Chair of the Board of Commissioners. Mr. Scott reportedly pounded his fists on a table when he heard the news and demanded that his wife fire Mr. Randall and vowed to “destroy” him. Yes, sometimes the truth is stranger than third-rate melodrama. I’m sure that, when the lawsuit goes forward, we will find out that he exclaimed, “bwahahaha” shortly afterward.
Mr. Randall was fired, and he filed suit againt Ms. Scott individually, in her official capacity as DA, and against the current DA in her official capacity.
The District Court dismissed the suit, reasoning that there is not First Amendment right to campaign for election, that Ms. Scott was protected by qualified immunity, and that the Complaint did not satisfy pleading requirements. Then the case went to the 11th Circuit, and the plot thickened.
The 11th Circuit affirmed the qualified immunity holding and reversed everything else, establishing that there are First Amendment implications in the right to campaign for public office.
While this is not an employment or civil law blog, this case reminds me of the heady days of the Jewel Scott administration where you could alway count on some nice reversible error in just about any case. Fortunately, her magical touch has likely tainted many a case in the filing cabinet over there. You have to think, if law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office was violating each other’s civil rights, imagine what kind of treatment the accused received along the way.
Alexis de Tocqueville said that “in a Democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” Defendants sometimes don’t get that choice; so it is nice to see that there is an appellate process to make up the difference.