Whistleblower Richard Ceballos
Public Citizen fought for Richard Ceballos's first amendment right to blow the whistle at the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos,126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006). Regrettably, the Court ruled that Ceballos had no first amendment right to speak out about improper conduct he discovered in the normal course of his duties, and he could be retailated against by his employer for doing so. This decision highlights just how important it is that Congress act now to pass strong whistleblower protections. Read the Richard Ceballos letter to members of Congress.
Summary of Statement by Richard Ceballos
I was the plaintiff in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006), a decision that has underscored the need for swift action by Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court held that because I was doing my job as a prosecutor when I reported suspected police misconduct to my supervisors, I could be stripped of my right as a citizen to speak up and report illegal government activity and that my employer was entitled to retaliate against me for doing so.
I was not the only one on the losing end of the Court’s decision, millions of federal, state, and local government employees across this country also lost. In my case, I was subjected to adverse employment actions simply for doing my job as a deputy district attorney serving in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Because I participate in a process that deprives people of their freedom, I am keenly aware of the responsibilities that come with that power, including my constitutional obligation to abide by specific rules of law, evidence, and ethics not demanded of other professions. My job, which I proudly served in for 12 years, is not simply to win a case or secure a conviction. My job is to seek justice. My profession requires me to make sure that only legally obtained evidence is used to secure a conviction.
In my case before the Supreme Court, I discovered that a deputy sheriff, working together with other deputy sheriffs, had falsified an affidavit submitted to a court to establish the “probable cause” necessary to obtain a search warrant in a particular criminal case. I conducted my own investigation, and my conclusions, confirmed by colleagues in the district attorney’s office, were that there was suspected misconduct so I recommended dismissal of the case against the defendants because of the constitutional violation. I was further motivated to take action by the then-unfolding.
LAPD Rampart Corruption Scandal, in which several rogue Los Angeles police officers were accused of fabricating arrest reports, planting evidence and committing perjury in court. At the time, I had a stellar record in the office, receiving repeated "outstanding” performance evaluations by my supervisors.
I then prepared a memorandum for my supervisors following the regular chain of command, in accordance with office policies, which initially was received approvingly. However, after a copy was sent to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which employed the police officers who were involved, sheriff department officials branded me a traitor and demanded I be removed from the criminal case at issue. Not wanting to risk alienating the Sheriff’s Department, my supervisors agreed to continue prosecuting the criminal case against the defendants.
Shortly thereafter, I began to suffer several adverse employment actions by my office, including a demotion from my supervisory position; a transfer to a more distant and inconvenient branch office; a refusal to assign me murder cases, thereby impairing my promotability, and the denial of a promotion that I had earned.
According to the Supreme Court, however, government employers can retaliate against employees like myself who speak out on matters of public concern—matters that come to the employees’ attention through their employment. According to the Supreme Court, the First Amendment doesn't protect me or countless other whistleblowers like me who did the right thing and went through the proper employer channels to alert the employer of a wrongdoing. The Supreme Court’s ruling creates an unacceptable predicament for government employees who witness fraud, corruption, waste, and mismanagement in the workplace: either disclose their observations internally by following the proper chain of command and procedure established by the agency and run the risk that hostile and unsympathetic supervisors will take adverse action against which the employee now has no protection, or run to the press and publicly embarrass government officials to increase their chance of First Amendment protection.
More realistically, employees have another choice - keep quiet and say nothing. Many employees will now look the other way and feign ignorance of the government malfeasance and mismanagement that they witness in their workplace. But if this occurs, both public employees and the public will have lost. The people will have lost their right to know what is happening in their own government; their right to know what elected and non-elected public officials are doing; their right to know if taxpayer money is being properly spent; and their right to know if public officials are engaging in corrupt or illegal activity.
The Supreme Court’s decision makes it imperative that government employees at all levels of government can count on statutory protection from reprisals when they speak up within their workplaces to disclose government malfeasance. I urge you to amend the federal Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) to ensure that federal employees can depend on that protection. As Justice Souter’s dissenting opinion in my case explains—without any contradiction from the Court’s majority—the WPA suffers from many shortcomings, in particular its failure to protect public employees from retaliation when they disclose instances of corruption, fraud, waste, or mismanagement in the course of their job duties or within the chain of command.
The enactment of a model statute by Congress could also embolden state and local governments to strengthen their whistleblower protections.
Read the Richard Ceballos letter to members of Congress.