Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jul 2012
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2012 Record Searchlight


Nothing keeps citizens on their toes like robust debates about the 
issues of the day - from the weeds in the lawn in front of the 
neighborhood school to the fate of the revolution in Syria. You know, 
the debates held on this very page and in other American newspapers every day.

And nothing grounds those debates in reality so much as the 
well-informed views of those in the trenches: What's your doctor's 
take on the health care law? What does the business owner think of 
the state's labor regulations? How would the police sergeant clean up 
that crime-ridden park?

So seeing anyone discouraged from speaking their mind in a letter to 
the editor, especially being silenced by a boss from offering 
opinions that reflect their professional experience, is hard to 
swallow. And the federal lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties 
Union recently filed on behalf of Trinity County deputy Mark Potts, 
claiming that Sheriff Bruce Haney trampled on his First Amendment 
rights by reprimanding him for writing letters to the Trinity Journal 
and barring him from writing more - it's a blow for freedom, right?

Well, yes - but there's another side to the story.

Last year Potts, an outspoken libertarian, wrote letters to the 
Journal advocating the legalization of marijuana, denouncing the 
false authority of "jackboots" from federal law enforcement and, in 
August, calling for jury nullification - that is, calling on jurors 
to refuse to convict defendants for violations of what they deem "unjust" laws.

Now, none of those opinions are beyond mentioning in polite society. 
 From a private citizen, they'd be thought-provoking but certainly 
wouldn't provoke a federal case.

But from a sworn deputy for the Sheriff's Office? Slurring federal 
law enforcement officers as "jackboots" - which Nazis famously wore - 
undermines the department's ties with other agencies. Calling for the 
marijuana ban to change is borderline. Calling for jury nullification 
is way over the line.

To arrest criminals and testify in court against them by day, while 
advocating jury nullification in one's free time, smacks of 
monkey-wrenching the justice system from the inside. It's no wonder 
the district attorney went so far as to say the office wouldn't 
prosecute cases in which Potts was involved.

The right to free speech is a core American liberty. But freedom from 
government censorship doesn't necessarily mean freedom from having 
your boss tell you to shut up when you're undermining the team.

We don't purport to know how the court will see the case. Potts' 
lawyers argue that his opinions never actually disrupted the 
sheriff's operations, which if true could make the gag order overkill.

But if our idealistic hearts are with Deputy Potts, common sense says 
the DA and the sheriff have a point.
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