(CN) - A former chief clerk in New York can proceed to trial on her claim that two family court judges and their assistants demoted her because she refused to "dish dirt" on a Democratic candidate for the New York Supreme Court, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
The Manhattan-based appeals court refused to dismiss Bobette Morin's retaliation claims against Fifth District Judge James Tormey, former executive assistant John Voninski, Onondaga County Family Court Judge Bryan Hedges and Hedges' law clerk, William Dowling.
Morin, the former chief clerk for the Onondaga County Family Court, said Tormey called her into his office in 2002 to tell her that family court Judge David Klim, a Democrat, was running for state Supreme Court justice against "good Republican friends of mine."
Tormey and Voninski allegedly asked Morin "to monitor Judge Klim's activities and to report his 'comings and goings,'" and to "dish dirt" on him for the upcoming election.
Morin said she told them she wasn't going to "spy" on judges or "engage in political activity involving the courts."
She said Tormey and Voninski retaliated by denying her requests for resources and supplies, giving her undesirable assignments and moving her to a "cold, dank" basement office.
Dowling allegedly told Morin that she had "pissed off the wrong person" and that she "would be sorry [she] ever crossed his path." He threatened to go directly to Tormey and Voninski, saying they "want to get rid of you," according to Morin's complaint.
Morin was demoted in March 2007 and sued that same year, asserting her First Amendment right not to be drawn into partisan political activities.
The 2nd Circuit refused to dismiss the complaint, despite the defendants' claim that their action against Morin was justified, because she had improperly expressed a "view" while performing her official duties.
"Morin did not initiate the expression of any views, nor did she volunteer comments on any issues, whether of public or private citizen concern," Judge Jon Newman wrote. "She just said, 'No.'"
Newman added: "The right to be free from retaliation based on political affiliation is not limited to members of an opposing political party, but extends to those who are perceived by those retaliating to be apolitical or insufficiently politically loyal."
The three-judge panel upheld the lower court's refusal to dismiss the case on the basis of qualified immunity.