Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
Virginia's Civil Rights & Personal Injury Law Firm

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News - First Amendment Suit Filed to Protect Speech of Fireman Against Spotsylvania County


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 County’s response to Usher’s 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 Usher’s publication attempting to bar Usher from unemployment benefits contending that Usher’s publication constituted misconduct. Roberts stated, "I find astonishing the County’s 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 County’s contention and qualified Usher for unemployment benefits.



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