- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

His attorneys say he is standing up for the rights of public employees nationwide, and his wife compares his principles to those of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
With those grandiose statements, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose embarked last week on a free-speech challenge of a ruling that blocked him from writing a book about leading the investigation of the Washington area sniper shootings.
He says the county's ethics commission is muzzling him, but the commission says that if the chief profited from his job he would undercut public trust in county government.
The dispute reveals a relatively common conflict in government: how much freedom public employees have to speak their minds. The answer, experts say, depends on who does the speaking and what they say.
"The government as an employer does have greater interest in restricting the public speech of its employees, but there is neither an absolute right of speech or an absolute right of restriction," said Keith Werhan, a professor of constitutional law at Tulane University.
Chief Moose was a relatively unknown suburban police chief until the string of sniper shootings in October. By the time John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested, Chief Moose had become a daily fixture on national television and a minor celebrity.
But his efforts to capitalize on his fame have been anything but easy. He signed in January with Dutton Books to write an insider account of the sniper manhunt, but his contract with the county required him to run the deal by the county's ethics commission.
Montgomery police union officials have also criticized Sandy Moose for comparing her husband's principles to those of King and Mr. Mandela, saying the only principle Chief Moose is fighting for is his right to personal profit.
The five-member ethics commission issued an opinion last month, saying Chief Moose's bid to make money off his job hurt the prestige of his position as police chief. The commission said the county's interests weren't served by officials who "trade on" their government jobs for personal gain.
Chief Moose argues that that decision is a prior restraint on his speech, namely his book due out in the fall. He plans to write in his free time and allow County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's office to review the galleys.
Chief Moose's attorneys argue that other public officials such as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have been allowed to write books.
"It is literally impossible to find a case where a government commission orders a public official in advance not to write a book and the order is upheld," said Jamin Raskin, Chief Moose's attorney. "This is a prior restraint on speech, the original and classic First Amendment violation."
Governments often have a strong interest in what their employees say about their work.
For example, Mr. Werhan said, if Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had spoken out against war in Iraq, his words could have shaken the public's faith in President Bush's administration. But a cook in the State Department cafeteria who criticized the war would have had less of an effect on public opinion, and therefore more freedom to express an opinion.
In a 1968 case, Pickering v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court said the government must prove any disruption a public employee's words might have on its operation outweighs the employee's right to free speech.
The court clarified Pickering in a 1995 case, U.S. v. National Treasury Employees Union. The decision, which overturned a federal ban on honorariums employees could accept for speeches or articles, set limits on a government's power to curb the speech of its workers. But the case addressed mostly lower-level employees, said University of California, Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh.

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