Defendant Attacks Prosecutor, Judge’s Lawsuit Against Sheriff Dismissed
A federal judge, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker of Grand Rapids, nominated to his position by President George W. Bush, determined Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina should not have released courtroom video of defendant Joshua Harding, armed with a shank, trying to attack a prosecutor.
Aquilina allowed the Lansing State Journal to record the attack from courtroom video, which prompted former Sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth to accuse the judge of obstruction of justice. Wrigglesworth said the recordings should have only been released by the proper authorities because his agency was investigating how the defendant managed to get a shank into the courtroom at the time.
An outside prosecutor, Clinton County Prosecutor Charles Sherman, declined to charge Aquilina, however. In response, Aquilina filed a federal lawsuit against Wrigglesworth and sheriff’s detective Charles Buckland, who sought the warrant. The judge’s lawsuit alleged First Amendment retaliation, stating the inmate’s ability to bring a shank into the courtroom was cause for public concern.
“[The judge’s] First Amendment activities in allowing the video to be recorded by a member of the media were a substantial factor in the decisions of Defendant Wrigglesworth and Defendant Buckland to inform third parties that they were investigating an alleged crime against [the judge],” Aquilina’s attorney, Nicholas Bostic, who alleged the sheriff retaliated against his client because he was embarrassed by the inmate’s attack, wrote in the lawsuit. “Having an inmate bring a shank into a courtroom is a matter of public concern…Granting permission of the media to record a recording of an event that occurred in a room that is open to the public cannot support any valid criminal charge.”
“A robust First Amendment necessarily protects citizens who speak from retaliation by public officials. But when the speaker is a public employee, and the subject of the speech is part of the employee’s official duties, other critical interests come into play and limit the otherwise applicable protection of the First Amendment,” Jonker wrote in his decision. “Judge Aquilina addressed a policy issue of courthouse security. It was naturally within her scope of public duties. Moreover, the way she chose to speak – by leaking a courthouse video available to her only because she worked for the Court – obviously involved her public position.”
The release of the video “is not the kind of speech that supports a First Amendment retaliation claim, any more than it would if the speaker had been an entry level courthouse employee, and the alleged retaliator had been the clerk of court who fired the employee for the leak,” Jonker continued.
The judge said that the First Amendment claim would require Aquilina to show she was engaged in constitutionally protected speech, was subjected to adverse action by the defendants and that “the protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor for the adverse action.” Jonker added, “the Supreme Court recognized that ‘when a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedoms.’ A Government employee retains First Amendment protections for some types of speech, but the employee’s First Amendment rights must be balanced against the Government’s right as an employer to ‘promote the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees.’”
Joshua Harding was on trial for sexually assaulting two children and pulled his weapon from his sleeve before charging across the room at the assistant prosecutor, according to the video footage taken of the incident. The Lansing State Journal included the video as part of its reporting on the courtroom attack even though it had not been previously made public.