High court turns away sheriff’s appeal in free-speech case

Thursday, December 11, 2008

DARTMOUTH, Mass. — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a petition from the Bristol County sheriff, who appealed a ruling that he violated the free-speech rights of five guards he suspended for doing union-related work while on the job.

The Supreme Court denied the petition in Hodgson_v_Davignon on Dec. 8 without explanation.

The guards were suspended in 2000. They sued Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and won nearly $18,000 in their federal jury trial. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that judgment last April.

“In this case, there is ample evidence that Hodgson suspended the plaintiffs not out of a legitimate concern that their speech compromised safety at the correctional facilities but because of their pro-union activity,” the 1st Circuit wrote.

Hodgson claimed he was trying to maintain discipline and public safety, because some of the guards had left open a gate at a county jail. He said on Dec. 9 that while he disagreed with the high court’s ruling, he must obey it.

The guards' lawyer, Philip Beauregard, says his clients have a constitutional right to voice their opinions. He says the legal battle has cost the public more than $1 million.