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Calif. city ordinance violates employees' free-speech rights

By The Associated Press
03.09.07

VICTORVILLE, Calif. — A federal judge ruled that a city ordinance barring municipal employees from talking in private to City Council members about work-related grievances violates the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz said that the rule drafted to prevent employees from influencing individual council members' votes on bargaining issues was misguided.

Howard B. Golds, a lawyer for the city, said on March 6 that officials were disappointed with the judge's decision.

"We thought there was a strong purpose for the ordinance: to make sure labor negotiations occur in public," Golds said.

But Matz said in his decision that he agreed with the city's firefighters union that the ordinance "punishes a substantial amount of protected free speech with no compelling justification."

Dieter C. Dammeier, an attorney for the 120-member union, told the Los Angeles Daily Journal on March 5 that the firefighters are happy with the ruling.

"We're pleased that the court isn't going to stifle free speech," Dammeier said.

Golds said that city officials were considering drafting a new ordinance that would address the judge's objections.

The ordinance is believed to have been the only one of its type in the state.


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