Monday, December 19, 2011

Complaint Against Judge's Proselytizing Is Protected Speech; Jury Award Upheld

In Pucci v. Somers, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144894 (ED MI, Dec. 16, 2011), a Michigan federal district court upheld a $734,000 jury verdict in favor of Julie Pucci, the former deputy administrator of a Michigan state court, against Mark Somers, the court's chief judge.  Pucci claimed that the termination of her employment was in retaliation for her complaints about Somers' preaching religious beliefs from the civil court bench. The court concluded that Pucci's complaints involved matters of public concern and were made in her capacity as a concerned citizen by approaching the State Court Administrator's Office.  As to disruption in the workplace that might have been caused be Pucci's complaint, the court said: "In this case, the defendant has shown only that the plaintiff's speech caused disharmony in a workplace already ringing with sour notes." Therefore her complaints were protected by the First Amendment. (See prior related posting.)