Jerud Butler v. Board of County Commissioners for San Miguel County

On October 2nd, 2019, the National Whistleblower Center filed an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court in Jerud Butler v. Board of County Commissioners for San Miguel County.

In 2016, Jerud Butler worked for the San Miguel County Road and Bridge Department. He chose to testify as a private citizen in a child custody case between his sister-in-law and her ex-husband, who also worked for the County’s Road and Bridge Department. After he testified, his employer investigated his statements in court. Following this investigation, Butler was reprimanded and demoted.

He filed a lawsuit, alleging a violation of his right to free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendment by demoting him for testifying truthfully. However, a federal district court dismissed his lawsuit stating that Butler’s testimony did not address a “matter of public concern”. When he appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, his claim of protected First Amendment speech was again rejected.

The issue in Butler “concerns one of the most fundamental rights protected under law: the right to provide truthful testimony in courts of law.” The amicus argues:

“The well-established purpose and design of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 was to ensure that all people had access to all courts without fear.”

In Lane v. Franks (2014), the Supreme Court held, concerning the testimony in a criminal case, that “public employees do not renounce their citizenship when they accept employment.” The amicus brief urges the Court “to determine whether this protection extends to civil proceedings because truthful court testimony by public employees outside of the scope of their job duties is First Amendment speech in their role as citizens.”

The amicus also stresses the need to “protect the right of government employees to testify even when the outcome may be adverse to the interests of a supervisor or manager.” The brief closes with:

The rule of law is threatened whenever witnesses are subject to retaliation. Such retaliation will create a massive chilling effect, regardless of the cause of action underlying the testimony. Truthful testimony in  court is not simply a public duty for which witnesses should be thanked. Protecting witnesses who provide truthful testimony in court is a predicate for public respect of the entire judicial system.

Find the full brief here.

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