Smith v. Gilchrist, III, No. 12-2503 (4th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, an assistant district attorney (ADA) for the county, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, against defendant, the elected district attorney (DA) during plaintiff's tenure, alleging that he was fired for exercising his free-speech rights in violation of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions. The district court granted summary judgment against defendants. The court reversed, concluding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendant on the First Amendment claim on the basis of qualified immunity. A reasonable DA in defendant's position would have known that he could not fire an ADA running for public office for speaking publicly in his capacity as a candidate on matters of public concern when the speech was critical of a program that substantially reduced the DA's office's caseload but there was no reason to believe the speech would negatively impact the DA's office's efficiency. The court reversed the summary judgment on the state-law claims as well.