The city has enlisted the services of a high profile law firm which specializes in supreme court cases to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by former city detective Jeffrey Heffernan who was allegedly demoted by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres in political retaliation.
Bethesda, Maryland-based law firm Goldstein and Russell will prepare legal briefs, solicit amicus briefs in support of the city’s position, and present arguments before the United States Supreme Court on January 19th, 2016, according to the resolution before the city council.
The firm will handle the work for $300,000 “entirely contingent on the firm’s success,” reads the resolution.
“The gravity of the pending litigation and the prestige of the forum, the Supreme Court of the United States, requires that this matter be assigned to a firm with highly specialized skills and depth of experience,” reads the resolution which was presented to council members on Tuesday evening.
The council discussed the case with its lawyers in a closed-door session last night. The firm specializes in high court cases and has a “documented history of exceptional success before the Supreme Court of the United States.”
It won the five cases it argued during the last high court term which is demonstrates a higher success rate than any other private firm, according to the resolution.
Heffernan’s lawsuit which names Torres and former police chief James Wittig stemmed arose the 2006 mayoral election. Larry Spagonola, former police chief, ran to oust Torres, the incumbent at the time.
One of Spagonola’s supporter was Heffernan’s bed-ridden mother. She asked her son to go pick up a lawn sign from Spagonola’s campaign office. Heffernan visited the former police chief’s campaign office and while picking up the sign one of Torres’ bodyguards, a police officer, saw him interact with Spagonola’s campaign manager.
Heffernan was subsequently confronted by his supervisors over the incident and was demoted to a walking patrol, according to his lawsuit, for being involved in politics. However, Heffernan did not reside in the city and could not vote. He has said in court filings that he was not politically involved mayoral election. However, a judge ruled, because he was not actively involved in the election, he was not exercising protected speech.
Heffernan’s knotty case went through several district judges eventually climbing all the way to the nation’s highest court. The nine-member high court will decide: “Whether the First Amendment bars the government from demoting a public employee based on a supervisor’s perception that the employee supports a political candidate.”
The city has already spent $560,000 defending itself in the case. That figure, many said, may be paltry, if the city loses the case. Heffernan has received three supporting friend-of-the-court briefs from some very influential parties.
Heffernan received supporting briefs from the Barack Obama administration, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the National Association of Government Employees, according to supreme court records.
The Goldstein and Russell law firm has been serving as counsel for the city on the case since early November. The Torres administration brought forth a resolution just last night.