Ethics lawyer fired for tweeting about Islam before 6th Cir.

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati will hear oral argument on whether the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Legal Ethics Committee faces a retaliatory lawsuit filed by an attorney who was fired for posting critical tweets. towards Muslims.

Jerry Morgan, who worked on the state Supreme Court’s Professional Responsibility Board, asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to restart his lawsuit arguing that his tweets were protected by the first amendment.

Morgan posted the tweets in question – which he said addressed issues in the national political discourse, with some mirrored opinions expressed by former President Donald Trump – before working for the government.

The case, which will be heard on Wednesday, shows the potential repercussions of workers’ past statements on social media. As a public sector employee, Morgan could challenge his dismissal in court on constitutional grounds, but most private sector workers have few legal remedies.

The dispute also highlights the hurdles justice workers can face when suing for allegedly illegal actions in the workplace, an issue that has received increased attention throughout the #era MeToo.

Federal court workers are not covered by Title VII anti-discrimination protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which leaves a narrow avenue for legal claims of workplace bias. A former federal public defender, for example, was granted permission in April to pursue certain constitutional claims against the Fourth Circuit stemming from his sexual harassment allegations.

Morgan’s lawsuit against the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Professional Responsibility Board and its chief disciplinary counsel was derailed at the trial court level by two separate doctrines of immunity.

First Amendment reprisal request against ethics committee blocked by sovereign immunity because council is an arm of the state, U.S. district judge Waverly Crenshaw ruled in March. The same claim against the board official who fired Morgan was overshadowed by quasi-judicial immunity because the official was acting within the authority delegated to him by the Tennessee Supreme Court, said Crenshaw, an Obama appointee.

Sixth Circuit Judges Alice Batchelder, one person appointed by George HW Bush; John Bush, a Trump appointee; and Stephanie Davis, a Biden appointee, are reviewing the lower court’s decision.

‘Number 1 of our time’

The case arose when attorney Brian Manookian appealed the suspension of his license. Manookian, who is married to a Muslim woman, decided to disqualify Morgan in 2020 for alleged anti-Muslim bigotry based on several tweets posted by Morgan.

A tweet from December 8, 2015 read: “Where is the proof that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’? They have gone to war against every society they have encountered for thousands of years.

Other tweets warned that Muslims “will take everything we give them” and use it “against us”, said “the number one problem of our time” is “stopping Muslims”, and stated that “the Constitution DOES NOT REQUIRE that we leave any more Muslims!

Chief Disciplinary Counsel Sandra Garrett fired Morgan, citing Manookian’s motion to disqualify, a separate misconduct complaint filed by another attorney, and Morgan’s duty to handle cases without bias.

Immunity disputed

Morgan argued in his brief filed with the Sixth Circuit that Garrett did not deserve immunity because employment decisions are administrative actions. He pointed to the 1987 Court of Appeal decision in Guercio vs. Brodywho underlined the distinction between judicial acts, which merit immunity, and administrative acts performed by judges, which are not.

Morgan said his dismissal was not related to any legal process at all, as he had no pre-dismissal hearing or appeal available.

“Ms. Garrett wants the benefits of judicial immunity without the burden of legal process,” Morgan said in her memoir. “She is not entitled to the former without the latter.”

Further, he said, the district court was “simply incorrect” to hold that sovereign immunity blocks his claims to bar employment-unfavorable actions based on his speech, and an order of the court to clear the council’s internal tracking system of references to related speech-discipline. Such prospective injunctive relief should be allowed under the 1908 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Ex parte Youngsaid Morgan.

The state finds shields

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, which represents the council, argued in its brief that the Ex parte Young the exception to sovereign immunity does not authorize the injunction sought by Morgan.

This exception applies when a plaintiff sues a government official acting in the course of his official duties for a prospective remedy to end a continuing violation of federal law, government attorneys said. Morgan sued the board and Garrett individually and alleged no violation of pending federal law, they said.

The district court was correct in granting Garrett quasi-judicial immunity because his decision to fire Morgan was ‘intimately associated’ with his performance as an attorney on the state disciplinary board, the attorneys said. of the government. Morgan’s dismissal based on the complaints against him was closely tied to the legal process, they said.

Morgan’s attorney, Gary Blackburn of the Blackburn firm, said it was unfortunate that a state agency took sides in a political debate years earlier.

“I don’t support Donald Trump, but I totally support the First Amendment,” Blackburn said by phone.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

The case is Morgan v. Bd. de Pro. Resp., 6th Cir., No. 22-05200, closing argument 10/19/22.


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