February 17, 2006

Supreme Court to hear whistle-blower case again

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on
Friday it would hear arguments again on whether free-speech
rights protect government whistle-blowers who claim retaliation
for trying to expose possible misconduct at work.

The court gave no explanation why the case would be argued
again, but with the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
the court could be deadlocked by a 4-4 vote, and new Justice
Samuel Alito, a conservative, may be needed to break the tie.

The case involved a California prosecutor who sued his
employer for retaliation after he reported suspected wrongdoing
in a memo to senior officials in his department.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Richard
Ceballos said he was demoted, denied a promotion and
transferred for trying to expose a lie by a county sheriff's
deputy in a search-warrant affidavit.

He said in his lawsuit that he had been retaliated against
for exercising his free-speech rights.

The justices heard arguments in the case on October 12. Of
all the cases argued this term from October through January
when O'Connor was on the bench, only the California case was
set to be heard again.

O'Connor, a moderate conservative, often cast the decisive
vote on the court that has been closely divided with
conservative and liberal factions.

A court spokeswoman said the case will be reargued this
term. The last set of arguments for the 2005-06 term are
scheduled for April.