With Apologies to Dean Swift

I offer my own modest proposal.

An 11-year-old Florida student shot a smart-phone video of a teacher bullying a fellow student, publicly and in the classroom.  This same teacher has a Facebook page on which she posts photographs taken in the classroom.  The school’s principal also runs a Facebook page for the school, again featuring in-classroom media.

The student shot and publicized the video, thereby getting the teacher fired — as the teacher deserved to be.  The school’s principal then suspended the student, citing an alleged violation of the teacher’s “expectation of privacy.”  In a classroom.  Full of students.  In connection with a raised-tone-of-voice, everyone-in-ordinary-earshot-can-hear exchange with a student.  A public school teacher, paid by the taxpayers’ money.  You can’t make this shit up.  The thug rocket-scientist school principal is named Traci Wilke.

Although the student’s suspension was lifted before the five days were up, you really have to ask why this transparently improper punishment was meted out to a student who did nothing more, it seems, than identify someone who needed to be weeded out from the rest of the teaching profession.  Actually, we don’t need to ask, not at all.  As the linked article describes it, this was neither more nor less than “an obvious attempt at intimidation.”  See, kiddoes?  You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.  Shut and keep your head down.  The NEA code of omerta strikes again.

It is gratifying to report that the student’s family has already hired a lawyer.  Part of any settlement agreement should requiring the principal to be fired and to execute a consent order agreeing never again to seek or accept any employment from any school or school system, at least in Florida and preferably nation-wide.  Someone whose sense of justice and propriety is so warped should never be entrusted with any group of people who by law are restricted in their ability to fight back.

But more to the point, how about this for a state-level fix?  A very simple statute:

“(a)  Except as expressly set forth in this section, all actions and omissions of any person holding any office or position, howsoever characterized, under the constitution or laws of this state, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any agency or instrumentality thereof, in respect of all offices or positions so held by such person, shall be public matters of public import and concern.

(b)  Notwithstanding any provision of the law of this state or of the United States to the contrary, no person holding any office or position, howsoever characterized, under the constitution or laws of this State, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall have or claim any expectation of privacy or other privacy interest, howsoever characterized, in respect of any matter arising from, relating to, or connected with such person’s holding of such office or position.  There shall be no cause of action under any theory whatsoever in favor of any such person for the otherwise lawful gathering, recording, storing, publication, or other dissemination of any information in respect of such person’s actions or omissions in respect of any office or position so held by such person.

(c)  The acceptance by any person holding any office or position under the constitution or laws of this State, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any agency or instrumentality thereof, of any compensation, perquisite, or other benefit of such office or position, of any kind, character, or description whatsoever shall conclusively be deemed to constitute a waiver, for all purposes and to the fullest extent permitted by any applicable law, of any claim to or expectation of privacy in respect of such person’s actions or omissions in respect of such office or position and otherwise existing under any provision of the laws of this state or the United States.

(d)  The provisions of this section shall not supersede — 

      (i)  those provisions of the law of this state specifically exempting from public disclosure items of personal information generally exempted from disclosure pursuant to the provisions of ____________________; 

      (ii) the laws of this state in respect of defamation; or,

      (iii)  the laws of this state in respect of the permissible methods of visual or audible recording of the speech or actions of another person.”

Reference in the blank would be to the statutes containing that state’s public records disclosure statutes, and to the exemptions from them (in other words, just because you happen to be a state judge doesn’t mean your Social Security number ought to be disclosable).  On the other hand, I don’t see why that state judge should be able to claim an expectation of privacy as to any matter having anything to do with that judge’s execution of his office.

Note that “not having an expectation of privacy” is most emphatically not the same thing as “subject to public disclosure upon demand.”  A right of privacy is a right that is personal to you.  To use an example from private life:  I have no personal interest in the privacy of my communications with my clients.  Those communications are protected by the attorney-client privilege, but that’s a privilege that (a) belongs to the client, not me, and (b) can be waived by the person to whom it belongs.  Thus, our hypothetical state judge’s deliberations, either with his fellow judges (on a multi-judge tribunal), or his law clerk, or even a buddy of his who happens to be a judge elsewhere, may not be subject to forcible disclosure by some member of the general public.  But if a secretary (or law clerk, or just Joe Bloggs who happens to overhear the judge talking in a restaurant) hears the judge and his buddy sitting around a table discussing how best to screw a political enemy, or ruling a particular way in order to “send a message” to some person or group, and decides to record it, then by God that’s a public service for which the person recording should be commended (and the judge impeached and then disbarred, of course).  The judge himself should not be heard to allege that his “privacy” was invaded by someone catching him violating the trust of his office.  As Traci Wilke, whom I’ll just go ahead and declare to be the most fire-able principal in America as of this afternoon, has done.

Just my humble contribution to the good of the public.

[Update 31 Mar 15, 12:39 p.m.]:  In my discussions-in-chambers hypothetical, the judge’s not having a right of privacy in those matters is also not the same thing as public disclosure of them not being a firing offense, unless protected by a whistleblower statute or similar common law rule.  Again, it’s not the judge as an individual firing the discloser, but rather an agent of the state, and what is being punished is not some violation of the judge’s legitimate privacy interest, but rather a violation of a law to keep confidential matters that are in fact and (if otherwise lawful) ought to be exempt from public disclosure.  The long and short is that everything you do and say in your capacity as a public official belongs to your government and to the people who have constituted that government.  It does not belong to you and you have zero — absolutely bugger all — right to keep it under wraps to protect yourself.  Therefore no disclosure of it can injure you in your personal capacity.

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