A Texas businessman who has fought the government for more than 20 years over allegations of retaliatory prosecution for his criticism of the U.S. Postal Service finally may get a chance to take his claims to a jury.
Voting 2-1 this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit refused to halt the suit that the businessman, William Moore, filed in Washington's federal trial court in 1992.
The litigation has a long and complex history, centered in large part on whether the defendants, a group of Postal Service inspectors, are entitled to qualified immunity. On that issue, the D.C. Circuit hasn't gone along with the U.S. Justice Department position. DOJ has pressed a series of challenges of court rulings in the case, fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Advancing the case
In the latest phase of Moore's case, the D.C. Circuit was tasked with deciding whether a Supreme Court ruling last year in a retaliatory arrest case meant Moore's claimsbased on a challenge of his prosecution for his alleged role in a kickback conspiracycould move forward. On January 15, the appeals court said Moore's suit, which explores the relationship between probable cause and retaliation claims, can proceed.
Moore's attorney, Jones Day partner Paul "Mickey" Pohl, said he's looking forward to trial. The chief allegation in the case is this: A group of U.S. Postal Inspectors induced the criminal prosecution of Moore in retaliation for his public criticism of the agency.
"What the Postal Inspectors did in this case 25 years agourged the prosecution of Mr. Moore because he went to the media and to Congress and criticized postal service managementwas shameful and would shock most Americans who would likely not believe that government agents would hammer a citizen for exercising First Amendment rights," Pohl wrote in an email.
Pohl said the Postal Service and DOJ "have played hardball at every turn, even trying to keep the damning documents from seeing the light of day."
Qualified immunity argued
DOJ lawyers argued recently in the D.C. Circuit that the federal inspectors in the case are entitled to qualified immunity because it wasn't clearly established, in 1988, that an agent who reasonably believes there's probable cause "might nevertheless violate the First Amendment by inducing a prosecution of that individual."
The government said the Supreme Court decision in Reichle v. Howards, in 2012, "undercuts all earlier decisions that held that retaliatory inducement to prosecute can violate the First Amendment even when the defendant could have reasonably believed that the prosecution was supported by probable cause."
Pohl said that in 1988 the law was clear in Washington that "if the officer induced prosecution because of the defendant's protected speech, he violated the Constitution." It didn't matter then, Pohl said, whether there was a legitimate reason to pursue a criminal case.