Supreme Court declines to consider blocking California free speech case

Monday, October 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(WASHINGTON) - A California parole officer who criticized the record-keeping of his predecessor may sue over his demotion. The Supreme Court on Monday refused the state's request to block the trial.

California officials said Richard Bonomi was only grumbling about the status of records he'd been given, not raising an issue of public importance. The officials asked justices to stop a trial on Bonomi's claims that he was punished for complaining about poor record-keeping on paroled criminals.

The court refused without comment.

``We have consistently held that mismanagement in the criminal justice system, and the resulting potential threat to the public, is a matter of public concern,'' the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in reinstating Bonomi's case, which had been dismissed by a federal judge.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said employers would have to read their employees' minds to determine whether they were airing a general complaint or raising a substantive constitutional issue.

Bonomi was demoted from his San Francisco special assignments job after complaining about the poor record-keeping of parolees by his predecessor.

In court, Bonomi argued that he was extremely concerned there was a potential risk to the public because of unsupervised parolees.

Lockyer said Bonomi had a history of maintaining poor records himself and his ``criticism of his predecessor's record-keeping is the quintessential employee gripe to management - that the employee should not be disciplined for performance problems because the problems were caused by a co-worker.''

Bonomi sued his female boss, and among his claims was that she was romantically involved with the man he replaced, court records show.

The Supreme Court ruled on public employee speech in 1983, finding that the comments must address a matter of public concern.

California said the appeals court went too far in finding that applied to Bonomi.

``Recognizing that virtually anything that occurs in a public workplace - funded by public moneys and overseen by public officials - can potentially be construed as a `matter of public concern,' employers must constantly assess whether they must tolerate or even accede to employee grievances or disruption to avoid risking liability,'' the attorney general wrote for the state.