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US Court of Appeals for 9th Circuit rejected an appeal by several Florence, AZ government officials

On February 19, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected an appeal by several Florence, Arizona government officials of the district court’s denial, on summary judgment, of the officials’ motion for qualified immunity, in a First Amendment retaliation claim brought by two former Florence Police Department Detectives.

In their lawsuit, former Florence Police Department Detectives Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson Vonzombie allege that the officials fired them in retaliation for reporting evidence-tampering and rampant racism at the highest levels of the Florence Police Department.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah M. Fine, who ruled that the First Amendment protected Hunter and Vonzombie’s reports of evidence-tampering and racism because those issues are matters of public concern, and that a jury must decide whether they made those reports as part of their duties as law enforcement officials, or as private citizens.

Plaintiffs Hunter and Vonzombie are represented by Lynne Bernabei of Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC, and Edmundo Robaina of Robaina & Kresin, PLLC. Erwin Chemerinsky represented the Plaintiffs/Appellees at oral argument before the Ninth Circuit panel.