Thursday, February 24, 2011

Former Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox's Statement on His Firing

“Today I was fired from my position at the Office of the Indiana Attorney General for statements that I made on my personal Twitter account and blog Pro Cynic outside of work.

This past weekend I was contacted by a far leftist blogger from San Francisco who didn’t like a recent Twitter post I made which was clearly political satire. My post used a ridiculous tone and solution to the challenges associated with the Wisconsin statehouse protests. In no way was my post meant to be taken literally and I don’t think any reasonable person would conclude otherwise.

This post and many other outrageous comments made by me on either Twitter or my blog over the years have been a combination of serious political debate and over-the-top cynicism. This approach has successfully served to get people’s attention and draw them into a substantive debate on political issues of the day. I have never posted anything that related to my duties and responsibilities with the state. Nor have I ever used state resources or blogged during or at work.

The big question before us is whether or not public employees maintain their First Amendment rights once hired by the government. The Attorney General’s Office was well aware of my blog which started over seven years ago and at no time did they express any concern about its content.

Today that office stated that “We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility." Does this mean that a public employee has “first amendment rights” unless your government feels you are not “civil” enough or meeting an undefined “higher standard” even away from the workplace?

Yes, I made a lousy choice of words that too many people find “out-of-bounds” today. I regret that decision and will tone things down in the future. Yet, this entire situation has been blown out of proportion and has highlighted what I feel is a double standard regarding who can talk and who can’t.”

15 comments:

Doug said...

I get how his first comment about "use live ammo" could be satire or provocative or somehow not meant to be taken seriously; but that angle doesn't square with his response to the Mother Jones guy who asked if he was serious and he said, "You're damned right I advocate deadly force."

Something else is going on with that second statement. He probably doesn't actually want protesters to be killed. I suspect he was being a tough guy and wasn't going to let some "San Francisco liberals" push him around. Or something like that. That might be an understandable response, but sometimes you just can't afford the luxury of being emotional like that.

I'm not without sympathy though. As a blogging/twittering attorney, I have shot my mouth off from time to time. There have been a few occasions where someone has called me on something and, while emotionally I wanted to just get into a pissing match, the better approach was to simmer down, acknowledge that I'd probably overstated whatever it was, and proceed from there.

Cato said...
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Downtown Indy said...

Having a father who is a well-seasoned and generally respected media person surely ought to have instilled in him better sensibilities regarding things said in public.

Cato said...

Well, you could sue, but you already know how judges in this state rule when the government is on the other side. That mediocre government attorney with a non sequitur argument gets Bruce Cutler results in Indiana. You might then appeal, but you're in arguably the worst U.S. Circuit for rights. That Circuit has said that a misdemeanor can permanently disqualify someone from exercising a fundamental right. Scary.

Your best bet is to confess your sins to the ACLU; have a profound conversion of faith in their office; let the Mother Jones crowd know that you have finally come to understand why they believe in rights so deeply, and hope that the ACLU might be moved to take your cause. Political pressure seems to be the only thing that sways Republicans. Openly pondering whether Zoeller can adequately defend the rights of Hoosiers when he has taken such a vigorous anti First-Amendment position might give them some political leverage.

You were fired for speech, simple as that. And that ain't right or Constitutional. Were I AG, you would have received an instruction to make nice with the MJ folks and let them know that you're just a gruff humorist.

By the way, if the AG attorneys had unionized, you would have a formal forum to contest knee-jerk firings.

Ironic, isn't it that you now see what life is like in absence of any worker protections while your condition resulted from your own attack on workers' rights?

Let this be a lesson to you on how deeply Republican loyalties run.

Short of the Left sticking up for you, I'd say you're sunk.

Nicolas Martin said...

Satires which the censor understands are rightly prohibited. -- Karl Kraus

If Cox didn't grasp the possible repercussions of his posting, then he is as dumb as a log. But as Doug has shown, Cox is probably just a standard-issue liar, a character flaw not so rare in government officials.

marksmall2001 said...

Article I, sec. 9 of the Indiana Constitution protects the right to "free interchange of thought and opinion." The First Amendment, likewise, protects free speech. If he was not commenting on a case in which he was counsel, he was not acting under color or title of state law, and he was not using the resources of his office for the communication, he had a right to express himself. He might be right-wing as hell. I don't care. I'm left-wing. The constitutions of the state and the Fed are blind to such distinctions. At least they are supposed to be. I do not agree w/what he said, even when considered as reducio ad absurdum. Still, he had a right to say such things w/o getting fired.

Nicolas Martin said...

marksmall2001, you are among the many who misapprehend "freedom of speech." It does not mean, nor should it mean, that you can't lose your job for what you say. It isn't as though Cox was expressing controversial thoughts about, say, drug prohibition. He was just shooting off his mouth like any twitting numbskull. He doesn't have tenure or a special free speech dispensation because he works for politicians.

If Regular Joe had tweeted the same sentiment about the people who work for the AG, then Joe would have most likely ended up in front of a judge, and Cox would most likely have been happy to help prosecute him.

marksmall2001 said...

Nicolas,
In its essence, free speech means that a person cannot be punished by a governmental for expressing him or herself. This individual was employed by the State of Indiana. I would argue that amongst those inherent rights we enjoy as human beings is a right to express oneself outside of work hours on non-job related matters and not get fired. As for Regular Joe being prosecuted for what Mr. Cox said, on what basis? There is no statute of which I am aware that makes ridiculous comments criminal.

Cato said...

Nicolas (sic):

If you can lose your job for what you say, then you're not free to say it.

I posit that it is you who has an infirm grasp on the bounds of "freedom."

Are you "free" to be a Baptist, if you'll be fired for attending a Baptist church? Are you "free" to own firearms if you'll be fired for exercising the right? Are you "free" to protest on the Statehouse steps if a cop will shoot you with live ammunition for doing it? Er,,, Wait a minute,,,

"Right" or "freedom" are almost directly substituted with "without consequence or interference."

Let's try it: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; nor shall it permit any consequence or interference concerning speech, the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Another one: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the people are to keep and bear Arms without consequence or interference."

If there are consequences to a right, then you don't really have a right.

Sure, Sally may dump you if she finds you like to exercise your right to watch wrestling, but if you're going to scrape the dregs to find a counter-argument, we're not really having the same discussion.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

The irony here is that if Jeff was a public employee in the union, the union would be fighting for his right to work and protect his job!

I wonder if the libs are glad Jeff was not a union employee and instead was under 'at will' employment.

Barnard said...

Freedom goes both ways. We have the freedom to say what we want but in a truly free country there are possible consequences for our actions. I'm not sure about public employees but Indiana is an at will employment state. That means that you're employed at the will of the employer. They are allowed to fire you for any reason other than race, religion, sex, etc.

If an employer, including the state in my opinion, thinks that comments you "freely" made negatively impact their image, their corporate culture or are counter to their values they have the right to terminate you.

Cox freely made his choice and now his employer should be free to make their choice. Sucks when both sides get to play by the same rules doesn't it!

Cato said...

This is one of those things that I really find to be poor manners, and I've done it, myself.

Barnard's post contains argument which has already been raised and objected to in this thread. It's exceedingly poor manners to ignore a existing objection to an argument you're about to post.

Manners dictates that you enter the argument in its current state and not pretend that no prior discussion has occurred.

And, no, Barnard, it isn't as easy to fire someone as you contend. That "negative image" scope doesn't go very far. If a local tool company likes to pass themselves off as a Christian company, they can't fire a Jewish employee for possibly diluting that image.

There's precisely nothing objective underpinning an "image" standard.

artfuggins said...

Words and deeds have consequences. If Cox had belonged to a union, the union would fight to see that his rights were observed. Unions do not represent misbehavior. To me, his statements border on domestic terrorism.

Sammy said...

Perhaps Cox should follow the example of Sarah Palin and claim that the DA issued a blood libel against him.

Free speech notwithstanding, Cox is a poor excuse to be representing his state as a public official. Typical low class, no class right-winger.

Also, too, I find his comments about the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES to be offensive. But being offensive seem to be common among right-wingers these days.

Sammy said...
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