11/19/98 $1 Million suit filed against Spotsylvania County Officials in Virginia
for terminating a Fireman and Emergency Medical Technician who published public
information on the Internet:
On November 19, 1998, former Spotsylvania Fireman, E. Wayne Usher filed a $1 Million
suit against Spotsylvania officials alleging violations of the First Amendment and the Due
Process Clause of the United States Constitution. Usher, a long-time year EMT, was fired
from Spotsylvania County for posting on the Internet public information regarding
dangerous response times during periods that Spotsylvania County did not have professional
rescue personnel on duty. Lawyers from the Richmond based Civil Rights Law Firm of Thomas
H. Roberts & Associates, P.C., cooperating with the American Civil Liberties Union of
Virginia (ACLU) filed suit after Spotsylvania refused to take prompt corrective measures
to remedy the First Amendment violations.
Attorney Thomas H. Roberts stated, "The Countys response to Ushers
right to free speech is appalling. Usher caused public information to be disseminated by
use of the Internet. If there is a fixed star in the constellation of Constitutional
rights, it is that Speech may not be infringed because the Government official disagrees
with the content of the speech. The Supreme Court has made it clear on numerous occasions
that regulations which permit the Government to discriminate on the basis of the content
of the message cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment. Underlying this principle is
the recognition that content-based burdens on speech raise the specter that the Government
may effectively drive certain ideas or viewpoints from the marketplace."
The County continues down its Iron-curtain style opposition to Ushers publication
attempting to bar Usher from unemployment benefits contending that Ushers
publication constituted misconduct. Roberts stated, "I find astonishing the
Countys argument that the proof of the misconduct and alleged disruption to the
County of Spotsylvania resulting from the dissemination by Usher of the public
information, the fact that volunteer firemen have responded with greater urgency to alarms
since the publication." The Virginia Employment Commission rejected the Countys
contention and qualified Usher for unemployment benefits.
The facts and circumstances of each case are unique and
therefore the fact that a law firm has obtained significant verdicts and results
in other cases in no way guarantees that other cases will have similar results.