Oct 10, 2015 11:35 AM
Portsmouth's lawyer says no free speech violation in whistleblower lawsuit
PORTSMOUTH — A lawyer for the city is asking a judge to dismiss the "free speech" lawsuit of former police officer John Connors, arguing the city wasn't violating his First Amendment rights when they punished him for giving an interview to the Portsmouth Herald last summer.
Lawyer Charles Bauer is responding to a lawsuit from Connors, who has sued the police chief, former Police Commissioner Jerry Howe, Police Commission Chairman John Golumb and the city, saying he's been placed under a gag order in violation of his right to free speech. Connors says he was prohibited from speaking about the now-fired police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin and Goodwin's influence over a widow who left him a $2.7 million estate.
According to seacoastonline.com, Bauer wants Connors' lawsuit dismissed, arguing the city is immune from the suit and that the underlying issue was not about free speech but of Connors decision to violate police procedure when he spoke with the Portsmouth Herald.
Bauer argues Connors, "conducted a news conference as a police officer and purportedly on behalf of other police officers, in violation of Portsmouth Police Department Standard Operating Procedure."
Connors' "speech and conduct were made as part of his employment, and not entitled to First Amendment protection," the city asserts in its response to the U. S. District Court of New Hampshire.
Connors said during the August 2014 Portsmouth Herald interview that he saw Goodwin make more than 100 visits to Webber, some on duty, prior to Webber changing her estate plans to leave most of her $2.7 million estate to Goodwin.
Through attorney Paul McEachern, Connors claims he's been unlawfully deprived of his "constitutionally protected right of speech as a whistleblower for publicly disclosing unethical activities of employees of the Portsmouth Police Department which he observed as a citizen and next door neighbor of the elderly target of those activities."
Connors' suit asks a federal judge to award him enhanced damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and to bar the named police officials from infringing on his right to speak publicly about the Webber case. The city's response says Connors has suffered no damages.