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Garcetti v. Ceballos

Supreme Court of the United States

October 12, 2005, Argued; March 21, 2006, Reargued ; May 30, 2006, Decided

No. 04-473

Opinion

 [*413]  [**1955]   Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

It is well settled that ] "a State cannot condition public employment  [***696]  on a basis that infringes the employee's constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression."  Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 142, 103 S. Ct. 1684, 75 L. Ed. 2d 708 (1983). The question presented by the instant case is whether the First Amendment protects a government employee from discipline based on speech made pursuant to the employee's official duties.

Respondent Richard Ceballos has been employed since 1989 as a deputy district attorney for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. During the period relevant to this case, Ceballos was a calendar deputy in the office's Pomona branch, and in this capacity he exercised certain supervisory responsibilities over other lawyers. In February 2000, a defense attorney contacted Ceballos about a pending criminal case. The defense attorney said there were inaccuracies in an affidavit used to obtain a critical search warrant. The attorney informed Ceballos that he  [*414]  had filed a motion to traverse, or challenge,  [****8]  the warrant, but he also wanted Ceballos to review the case. According to Ceballos, it was not unusual for defense attorneys to ask calendar deputies to investigate aspects of pending cases.

After examining the affidavit and visiting the location it described, Ceballos determined the affidavit contained serious misrepresentations. The affidavit called a long driveway what Ceballos thought should have been referred to as a separate roadway. Ceballos also questioned the affidavit's statement that tire tracks led from a stripped-down truck to the premises covered by the warrant. His doubts arose from his conclusion that the roadway's composition in some places made it difficult or impossible to leave visible tire tracks.

Ceballos spoke on the telephone to the warrant affiant, a deputy sheriff from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, but he did not receive a satisfactory explanation for the perceived inaccuracies. He relayed his findings to his supervisors, petitioners Carol Najera and Frank Sundstedt, and followed up by preparing a disposition memorandum. The memo explained [**1956]  Ceballos' concerns and recommended dismissal of the case. On March 2, 2000, Ceballos submitted the memo [****9]  to Sundstedt for his review. A few days later, Ceballos presented Sundstedt with another memo, this one describing a second telephone conversation between Ceballos and the warrant affiant.

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547 U.S. 410 *; 126 S. Ct. 1951 **; 164 L. Ed. 2d 689 ***; 2006 U.S. LEXIS 4341 ****; 74 U.S.L.W. 4257; 152 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P60,203; 87 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P42,353; 24 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 737

GIL GARCETTI, et al., Petitioners v. RICHARD CEBALLOS

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

 Ceballos v. Garcetti, 361 F.3d 1168, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 5328 (9th Cir. Cal., 2004)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

employees, public employee, speaks, the First Amendment, teacher, memo, matter of public concern, cases, government employee, official duty, retaliation, memorandum, obligations, Appeals, matters, rights, communications, whistle-blower, wrongdoing, circumstances, balancing, discipline, protects, courts, views, constitutionally protected, public employer, public interest, categorically, performing

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Public Employees