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Sunday, March 3, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Upholds Public Defender’s Dismissal

(CN) - A public defender who allegedly made deceptive statements in court was rightfully dismissed after he refused to cooperate with his employer's investigation, the California Supreme Court ruled.

Thomas Spielbauer lost his job with the County of Santa Clara and sued for reinstatement, claiming his rights against self-incrimination were violated.

The county said it complied with the law by informing Spielbauer that nothing he said to incriminate himself could be used in a criminal investigation. Still, on advice of counsel, Spielbauer refused to cooperate and was fired.

At trial, Spielbauer argued that the county needed to issue a formal guarantee of immunity before he could be compelled to cooperate without fear of losing his job.

The trial court disagreed, but an appellate court reversed the decision.

The state high court again reversed, ruling that the county had met its requirements.

"Plaintiff was not ordered to choose between his constitutional rights and his job," Justice Baxter wrote. "On the contrary, he was truthfully told that no criminal use could be made of any answers he gave under compulsion by the employer.

"As the (U.S. Supreme Court) has made clear," Baxter added, "the Constitution affords a public employee no right to refuse to account for his or her job performance, or to avoid dismissal as a punishment for such a refusal."

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