35°F
weather icon Clear

Appeals court upholds Nevada troopers’ free speech case

CARSON CITY — While government employers have legitimate interests in managing the speech of their employees related to their work, they may not subject workers to a blanket ban, the 9th Circuit Court ruled Tuesday.

The case involved three Nevada Highway Patrol troopers who sued their department in 2012, claiming administrators sabotaged their K-9 drug-detection unit and retaliated against them after media reports of alleged illegal searches.

The appeals court said government employers have significant and legitimate interests in managing the speech of their employees.

“We make clear today, however, that a public employer generally may not subject all employee speech regarding a particular government program — whether fact or opinion, and whether liable to disrupt the workplace or not — to a blanket ban,” the court panel said.

At the heart of the free speech complaint was an email sent by highway patrol Major Kevin Tice on Feb. 24, 2011 to K-9 troopers in the southern command area. In the message, Tice forbade “direct contact between K-9 handlers or line employees with ANY non-law enforcement entity or persons for the purpose of discussing the Nevada Highway Patrol K-9 program.”

Troopers Matt Moonin, Donn Yarnall and Erik Lee challenged the constitutionality of the email. The three-judge panel of the appeals court held that the sweeping policy imposed by Tice’s email violated the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks in 2015 ruled in favor of Moonin’s First Amendment claim, rejected Lee’s speech claim and did not decide Yarnall’s claims because he had died.

The appeals court panel, ruling on Moonin’s claims, found that it was clearly established in 2011, when Tice sent the email, that such a broad restriction on employee speech could not survive First Amendment scrutiny.

The panel said Tice, who is no longer with the department, was not entitled to qualified immunity for his actions. Hicks’ finding of partial summary judgment in favor of Moonin was upheld by the panel.

Reno attorney Ken McKenna, who represented the troopers, said the matter will now go to a jury in district court solely on the issue of damages for Moonin, who retired from the highway patrol a year ago.

“In essence, the 9th circuit has labeled the behavior of the Nevada Highway Patrol equivalent to a country like North Korea, which prevents democratic free speech,” McKenna said.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Spring Mountain Medical’s toy drive is underway

The Christmas spirit is alive and well at Pahrump’s Spring Mountain Medical as doctors and staff are coordinating a toy drive once again this year.

Pahrump’s dust problem drawing state attention, again

Though officials insisted it was not intended to be a threat, a warning of sorts was issued to Nye County last month when an air quality specialist explained that the county must keep a tight handle on its dust problem, otherwise outside governmental agencies could come in to enforce dust control restrictions and regulations.

Search warrant nets arrest at Amargosa Valley facility

Several reports of alleged physical and sexual abuse at an Amargosa Valley behavioral health facility has prompted a Nye County Sheriff’s Office investigation, where at least one person was arrested, according to Lt. Adam Tippetts.

Meadows Bank net income up 21%

Meadows Bank, headquartered in Las Vegas and operating a branch in Pahrump, announced that it posted net income after tax of $13,739,900 in the first nine months of 2019.

Library gun ban proposal is set for consideration in Pahrump

The Pahrump Community Library Board of Trustees is set to address a very contentious issue, a possible ban on guns in the library’s story room, at its next meeting on Monday, Dec. 9.

Search is on for missing Death Valley area hiker

Harsh winter weather conditions are hampering the search for a missing hiker in Death Valley National Park.

Project at Duck Ponds in Pahrump

The duck ponds at the Nye County and town administration building at the Calvada Eye will be undergoing a thorough cleaning and repair project during the next couple of weeks, town government announced in a Dec. 3 Facebook post.