In an opinion Monday, Judge Marrero ruled that the First Amendment protected the right of a group of law professors to publish online their attorney grievance complaints against prosecutors in Queens who had been involved in alleged prosecutorial misconduct. The professors received a letter from New York City’s Corporation Counsel claiming that the disclosure of their complaints violated a statute protecting the confidentiality of grievance proceedings.
Judge Marrero, quoting an earlier Second Circuit case, found that the effort to deter the law professors was unlawful: “Penalizing an individual for publicly disclosing complaints about the conduct of a government official strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.”
The issue was so clear, Judge Marrero ruled, that the “high-ranking legal officers” involved in trying to suppress the protected speech were not entitled to qualified immunity:
[W]hen the events giving rise to the Complaint occurred, a reasonable government officer should have been aware that punishing private individuals for publishing their own grievance complaints runs afoul of the First Amendment. It is especially true that three high-ranking legal officers of the State and City of New York — the Corporation Counsel, the Queens County District Attorney, and the Chief Counsel to the Grievance Committee — would have known that, under the First Amendment, attorney grievance complainants are free to publicly publish their own complaints.