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Fifth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Former Louisiana Deputy’s Whistleblower Suit

When attorney and former Chief Deputy Tregg Wilson of the Sheriff's Office of St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana discovered that interrogation rooms in the office's Criminal Investigation Division were under 24-hour, motion-sensor-activated video and audio surveillance and recording, he thought it might cause Sheriff Mike Tregre legal problems since the rooms were used for privileged attorney-client meetings and the prosecutor was under a legal duty to disclose any exculpatory information which might be recorded. He discussed his concerns with Tregre, who opened an internal investigation. He also reported his concerns to Internal Affairs and the District Attorney, who requested an investigation by the Louisiana State Police. The State Police determined that no criminal laws had been violated and the District Attorney requested copies of the recordings so they could be reviewed for potential exculpatory information. Then Tregre fired Wilson.

Wilson filed a federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Tregre retaliated against him. He included state claims under the Louisiana whistleblower and ethics statutes, La. Rev. Stat. §§ 23:967 and 42:1169.

Tregre filed a motion for summary judgment which the district court granted. Wilson appealed.

The Fifth Circuit held that Wilson's speech was made within the scope of his employment, not as private citizen. This precluded any claim of retaliation under the First Amendment. Further, the whistleblower statute protects only employees who report an actual violation of state law by their employer. Yet Wilson had failed to demonstrate that the Sheriff's Office had actually violated any law. Rather, he had claimed only violations of attorney- client privilege, a testimonial privilege rather than a substantive law.

The easily visible recording equipment in the interrogation rooms did not violate the state wiretapping laws or the Fourth Amendment because Wilson had not shown that the individuals using the room had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Finally, the ethics statute required Wilson to file a report with the Louisiana State Ethics board, which Wilson failed to do, and did not create a private right of action for Wilson to sue in state or federal court. Therefore, the judgment of the district court dismissing the suit with prejudice was affirmed. See: Wilson v. Tregre, 5th Cir., No. 14-31179, decided May 22, 2015.

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Related legal case

Wilson v. Tregre