Judge Says Air Marshal Whistleblower Suit Will Move Forward

February 8, 2006 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – An air marshal’s lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security over restrictive policies that curtail whistleblower rights will proceed to trial, a federal judge ruled today.

The decision comes in response to a move by the government to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California on behalf of Air Marshal Frank Terreri. The lawsuit charges that the air marshal policies are not only unconstitutional, they may jeopardize the public’s safety.

“The federal air marshal policies have a chilling effect on whistleblowers’ speech,” said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU of Southern California. “If air marshals fear participation in public discussion that could improve the safety of the airline industry, the public is at risk. The original policy, and the new one, is unconstitutional and we are pleased the judge rejected the government’s argument and will allow the case to go forward so we can demonstrate how these policies improperly chill speech that the public has a vital interest in hearing.”

In the original lawsuit, filed in April 2005 against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other security officials, Terreri challenged Federal Air Marshal Service rules that prohibited him from speaking publicly about his job or saying anything about the agency. The ACLU called the overly restrictive policies a clear violation of Terreri’s First Amendment rights.

The government then changed its personnel policy in July, but Terreri and the ACLU said the new directive still contains speech-restrictive provisions and is likely to continue to put the public’s safety at risk. At the end of August, Terreri amended his lawsuit to also challenge the constitutionality of the new policy.

Terreri has 16 years of law enforcement experience with an unblemished record. For the past four years he has been a federal air marshal and is also a president of the air marshal division of a professional membership organization that represents more than 24,000 federal agents, including 1,400 air marshals.

Last year Terreri was taken off active flight duty and placed on administrative duty after he sent a private e-mail to another air marshal raising concerns about an air marshal profile in People magazine. He was returned to active flight duty the day after filing the lawsuit in April. He learned he was cleared of the first investigation and the charges were unfounded only after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

In addition to Eliasberg, Professor Allan Ides of Loyola Law School and Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman are representing Terreri.

For more information on the case, go to

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